Thursday, October 21, 2010


These historic recordings works are linked by wartime and the premonition of war. The Copland works belong to the war years - both post-Pearl Harbour. Appalachian Spring was when recorded here still work 'hot off the presses'. It was a ballet with a ballet reputation rather than concert music. It is done with deliciously rushed slides and deep-running bass-heavy figures (13.45). Koussevitsky relishes the Stravinskian influence which is, in his hands, very strong indeed - direct from Le Sacre and Petrushka. In addition Koussevitsky does tender duty to the more plaintive voices (e.g. 16.22). Holstian and Respighi influences can be heard at 18.52. He makes a real Abschied out of the last five minutes. This suddenly becomes the centre of gravity of the whole piece - giving it symphonic weight.

The Hanson with its Pohjolan and Brucknerian rumblings is a pioneer recordings as are all of these tracks. The symphony only flags in the finale where the pesante element weighs down the sense of direction. There is Sibelian pert wind writing aplenty. Hanson tries in the andante tranquillo to build the breadth of his great free-ranging theme in his Romantic Symphony. He just misses. He builds some surprisingly sinister visions as well - especially in the finale. His opera Merry Mount (will that work ever be recorded in modern sound?) was the quarry for this Breughel-Dali surrealism. Koussevitsky takes his time - all the time in the world! The largamente does not work as it should ending up far too ponderously rhapsodic.

The Lincoln Portrait has all the usual stirring strengths. What impresses though is the sudden poignant tenderness of the music for the words 'He was born in Kentucky'. This has been done well by many others and in better recordings. My recommendations are James Earl Jones on Delos and Charlton Heston on Vanguard. There were some quibbles when this disc first appeared in 1998 but at bargain price there is too much here to savour to let an allegedly synthetic sound quality deny you the pleasure of this deeply felt music making. For my part the sound quality was perfectly satisfactory. It is no barrier to enjoyment. Rob Barnett

1. Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring (1945) 24:29

Howard Hanson: Symphony No. 3 (1936)
2. Andante lamentando 9:57
3. Andante tranquillo 8:09
4. Tempo scherzando 5:54
5. Largamente e pesante 10:34

6. Aaron Copland: Lincoln Portrait (1942) 14:06

Melvyn Douglas (narrator - Lincoln)
Boston SO/Serge Koussevitzky
rec Symphony Hall, Boston: 31 Oct 1945 (Appalachian); 20 Mar 1940 (Hanson); 2 Feb 1946 (Lincoln)

Sunday, August 29, 2010


A lot of the repertoire for two pianos is arranged from orchestral music, but none the worse for that. The sound of two concert grands is uniquely exciting, though it can be cumbersome if the players are not perfectly synchronised, or if they compete rather than cooperate.

Marcelo Bratke and Marcela Roggeri sound as if they have been playing together for a long time. On Monday, they only looked at each other when they started each piece, not needing to afterwards because they felt the music together. It was an object lesson in true ensemble. He played nearly everything from memory, and while she had prompt scores, for much of the time she didn't appear to need to consult them.

Their programme brought together three American composers united by popular culture [this refers to a concert, reviewed herein]. Copland made his own two-piano arrangement of his cowboy ballet Billy the Kid, preserving its lean and airy textures. Just occasionally, in the second number, for instance, dissonances that are absorbed as instrumental colour in the orchestral original sound intriguingly arbitrary in the piano duo version. The hardest thing to make convincing (and get together) on two pianos is probably the broad opening music, which returns at the end. It was very well played.

Danzon Cubano also exists in an orchestral version, though it was originally for two pianos. Bratke and Roggeri got its cheeky rhythmic syncopations perfectly. And they caught the subtle switches of tempo in Copland's El Salon Mexico, arranged by Leonard Bernstein.

Gershwin wrote his Three Preludes for piano solo, and we heard an arrangement which Marcelo Bratke made in collaboration with Julian Joseph, attempting to evoke the sound of a big band. At least, that's what Bratke's programme note said, though the point of a big band sound is surely its brashness, and Bratke's own playing with Roggeri was a bit too refined to create that effect [not included on this CD].

I wonder what the Labeque sisters would have done with the same music, because they fairly thrash their instruments. But while the French girls are unrivalled in their way, these Latin Americans have their own discreet, considerate style which is charming rather than stunning. I don't usually find the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story [not on this CD] charming, exactly, but I'm grateful that Bratke and Roggeri did their very best to make them so. Their recent CD of this programme is available on the Etcetera label, distributed by Chandos Records. Adrian Jack

Check out for a recording of the same repertoire by a different piano duo.

Billy the Kid
1] The Open Prairie 3:10
2] Street in a Frontier Town 4:23
3] Billy and his Sweetheart/Mexican Dance 3:24
4] Celebration after Billy’s Capture 2:28
5] Billy’s Demise 1:18
6] The Open Prairie Again 1:35

7] Danzón Cubano 6:57
8] Variations on a Shaker Melody 5:29
9] Danza de Jalisco 3:56
10] Dance of the Adolescent 6:05

Two Movements from Rodeo
11] Hoe Down 3:10
12] Saturday Night Waltz 3:55

13] El Salón Mexico 9:23

Marcelo Bratke - piano
Marcela Roggeri - piano

Recorded at St. Phillip’s Church, Norbury UK in July, 1999

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Violin Sonata/ Vitebsk—comparative version: Göbel Trio, Berlin (4/88) CTH20I2

It's good to have more Copland on CD in anticipation of his ninetieth birthday in November: this time three of his best chamber works, all with piano and all of which he recorded himself. Vitebsk, written the year before the Piano Variations, has the same granitic grandeur but it also reveals the different strands in the composer's background. He said he intended to reflect "the harshness and drama of Jewish life in White Russia" so he borrowed a tune collected in

Vitebsk and used quarter-tone inflexions (right at the opening in the strings). The same quick-slowquick pattern of sections is the basis of the movements in the Piano Quartet, although both that work and the Violin Sonata are more lyrically expansive. The Piano Quartet extends Copland's horizons in other ways--it uses a twelve-note row, anticipating later more dissonant works like Connotations and Inscape, although the folksy opera The Tender Land (see review last month) was still to come. In 1985 Copland told Tim Page, when he asked him about the nature of American music: "The main thing is to write music you feel is great and that everybody wants to hear". That public response has not yet happened to some of Copland's more serious works so this release can only improve matters.

The Violin Sonata is played by Romuald Tecco and the versatile conductor and pianist Dennis Russell Davies. The violin intonation and attack—there are plenty of exposed moments in simple textures—are not always absolutely clean, but there is an attractive swing to the playing which is needed for Copland. By comparison the Gdbel Trio (Thorofon/Koch International) stemming from a different rhythmic tradition, seems slightly remote in both this sonata and Vitebsk. Tecco and Davies carry the impetus well in the long cumulative crescendos of the fast movements and the static slow movement, opening like a folksong in the piano, is well sustained.

Vitebsk opens with biting attacks on strings and piano. I have always admired the playing of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players (on RCA Victor—nla), who caught this taut intensity acutely. Tecco, Duckles and Davies, who are associated through the Cabrillo Festival, are a little lax, but the rapid music flows effortlessly, better than the German players. In some ways the Piano Quartet is the most satisfying performance on the record. The outer, slow movements range from cumulative power to static calm and this wide dynamic requirement is faithfully recorded. The second movement scherzo, with its taxing octaves and rhythmic unisons, comes off well in spite of its length. Altogether these interpretations may be slightly lacking in steely precision but they serve the composer very acceptably. PETER DICKINSON

Violin Sonata (1943)
1. Andante semplice (7:39)
2. Lento (5:13)
3. Allegretto giusto (8:41)

4. Vitebsk, Study on a Jewish Theme (1929) 13:15

Piano Quartet (1950)
5. Adagio serio (7:15)
6. Allegro gusto (7:50)
7. Non troppo lento (6:59)

Romuald Tecco (vn); Kenneth Harrison (Va); Lee Ducktes (Ce); Dennis Russell Davies (pf)
Recorded at the Performing Arts center, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA on July 10-12, 1989

Sunday, June 6, 2010


All of these works predate Aaron Copland's populist American ballets, but they reveal perhaps even more tellingly just what a talented and individual voice he had right from the start. The most important piece here is the Short Symphony (a.k.a. Symphony No. 2), a stunning essay in rhythmic lyricism that was considered all but unplayable when written in 1933--so much so that Copland rewrote it as a sextet. This performance hasn't quite the sharpness and sizzle of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra recording for DG, but the Bournemouth Symphony under Marin Alsop shows itself more than capable of mastering the music's intricacies.

The other two performances are even finer. Alsop catches the bittersweet lyricism of the First Symphony's outer movements very affectingly, while the whirlwind central scherzo is dazzling. The same observation holds true of the Dance Symphony, which works its way to a fine frenzy in a finale that strikingly anticipates the mature composer of the 1940s. Copland's bright, open textures come across well in the problematic acoustic of the Poole concert hall; this is one of Naxos' better recordings from this locale, graced with some really impressive bass sonorities. This is an intelligently planned and impressively executed disc. David Hurwitz

An altogether convincing and worthy disc of the OTHER Copland symphonies -- the ones that are not his large-scale masterpiece, the Symphony No. 3, certainly one of the greatest symphonies ever written by an American. There are Spartan modern music partisans who will, in fact, insist that Copland's first symphony from his 1924 Symphony for Organ and Orchestra is the great Copland Symphony. Or choose his Short Symphony from 1933. While it's true that Copland's musical personality was fully formed by the late '20s, the later populist masterworks -- and the wartime seriousness of the Third Symphony -- take his work to another level entirely. Alsop and the Bournemouth Orchestra's performances here on this budget-priced Naxos disc are predictably first rate, if not exactly inspired. Jeff Simon

Symphony No. 1 (1924)
1. I. Prelude: Andante 6:51
2. II. Scherzo: Molto allegro 8:01
3. III. Finale: Lento 10:27

Short Symphony, "Symphony No. 2" (1932-33)
4. I. quarter note = 144 4:21
5. II. half note = 44 5:08
6. III. quarter note = 144 00:06:02

Dance Symphony (1929)
7. I. Dance of the Adolescent: Lento - Molto allegro 6:56
8. II. Dance of the Girl Who Moves as if in a Dream: Andante moderato 5:12
9. III. Dance of Mockery: Allegro vivo 5:17

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop, Conductor
Recorded in The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK on March 30-31, 2007

Total Playing Time: 00:58:15

Friday, February 26, 2010


I want to thank my friend Wimpel for permitting me to post his rip of this nice CD.

Aaron Copland's The Tender Land was to be the first opera written for television, but NBC rejected it. Copland revised it, but later performances weren't well received. Hard to believe, from just the suite. This is vintage--if unfamiliar--Copland. The Red Pony comes from the film of the same name and is quite understated, something that was intentional on Copland's part: he didn't want the music to obtrude on the film's story. The real surprise here is how well the Phoenix Symphony comports itself under Sedares's baton. Nicely balanced, excellent sound. Highly recommended. Paul Cook

Aaron Copland was the composer who best personified the American style of classical music, having composed works that reflected all aspects of America: its big cities ("Music For A Great City"); its small towns ("Our Town") and its wide open spaces ("Rodeo"; "Billy The Kid"). But there is even more to this greatest of composers that our nation has ever produced, as personified on this 1991 recording by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and its music director James Sedares.

The recording contains a three-part orchestral suite from the composer's surprisingly unsuccessful 1954 opera "The Tender Land"; a suite from his score for the 1948 film version of John Steinbeck's novel "The Red Pony"; and a true rarity among rarities, the "Three Latin American Sketches" (Estribillo; Paisaje Mexicano; Danza De Jalisco), which were premiered in 1972. This suite, sandwiched between "The Tender Land" and "The Red Pony", makes for a thoroughly interesting comparison with Copland's two earlier Latin-oriented sojourns, "El Salon Mexico" and "Danzon Cubano."

Under Sedares' crisp direction, the Phoenix Symphony shows itself to be very much at home in this great American composer's works. They are almost certainly one of the great regional orchestras in the U.S., capable of standing tall with their bigger bretheren in cities like Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York. This is a wonderful recording for anyone with a taste for Americana and the occasional Latin spicing. E. North

Tender Land (Orchestral Suite from the Opera) (1956)
1. Intro and Love Music
2. Party Scene
3. Finale: The Promise of Living

Three Latin American Sketches (1959,1971)
4. Estibrillo
5. Paisaje Mexicano
6. Danza de Jalisco

Red Pony (Film Suite) (1948)
7. Morning on the Ranch
8. The Gift
9. Dream March
10. Circus Music
11. Walk to the Bunkhouse
12. Grandfather's Story
13. Happy Ending

The Phoenix Symphony
James Sedares (conductor)
Recorded May, 1991 at Symphony Hall, Phoenix, AZ USA

Friday, January 29, 2010


Given Jubilant Sykes recent triumph starring in Marin Alsop’s revival of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS for Naxos, I thought that posting Sykes’ 1993 Copland recital would be appropriately timed. Actually, the entire program is not dedicated to Copland’s music, despite the disc’s title. Traditional American spirituals comprise approximately half the running time. But they are well worth listening to and work well within the structure of Sykes’ presentation.

The singer’s musical partner on this recording is Andrew Litton, an American conductor who is extremely well-versed in Copland and the American vernacular in particular.

This is a charming CD and I feel that Sykes does a nice solid job with the “Old American Songs”, bringing enthusiasm and good humor to these old ditties, but with the weight and gravity required when needed. Enjoy! Scoredaddy

Jubilant Sykes’ bio: A classically trained baritone vocalist, Jubilant Sykes was a respected opera, jazz and spiritual vocalist of the late '90s. Sykes began his professional career in the early '90s. By 1996, his audience had grown substantially -- that year, he was named the Vocalist of the Year by Sacred Music USA. By the time he released his first album, Jubilant, on Sony Classical in the spring of 1998, he was a widely respected vocalist who had sung at the Metropolitan Opera and the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and had performed with the Boston Pops, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, among many other organizations. A sophomore effort, Wait For Me, was issued on Sony in summer 2001. Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Traditional Spirituals
1 City Called Heaven
2 Ride On, King Jesus
3 Were You There?
4 Weepin' Mary
5 Go Down, Moses
6 Leanin' On That Lamb
7 My God Is So high
8 Witness

Old American Songs by Aaron Copland
Set 1 (1950)
9 The Boatmen's Dance
10 The Dodger
11 Long Time Ago
12 Simple Gifts
13 I Bought Me a Cat

Set 2 (1952)
14 The Little Horses
15 Zion's Walls
16 The Golden Willow Tree
17 At The River
18 Ching-a-Ring Chaw

Jubilant Sykes (vocals)
London Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Litton, Conductor
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London, UK on March 30-31, 1993