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


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Byrd said...

I am so happy to see that you are back. I have learned so much (and am continuing to learn) about the music of Aaron Copland from your blog. Thank you for this newest post (and all your previous ones).

flurb said...

Welcome back, and many thanks!

Pippo said...

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Thank you Scoredaddy.

ita diegues said...

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