Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Among Aaron Copland's least-known compositions are his chamber pieces, seldom performed and recorded in spite of the composer's long tenure as the "Dean of American Music." This neglect has been attributed to the supposed difficulty of Copland's modernist style -- often featured in his chamber music -- which some have found less appealing than the robust Americana mode Copland cultivated from the late '30s onward. Yet even the works that anticipate his populist interests -- such as Ukulele Serenade (1926) and the Sextet for string quartet, clarinet, and piano (1928), and a masterpiece that is fully part of Copland's "homespun musical idiom," the Violin Sonata (1943) -- have languished in relative obscurity.

Thankfully, the musicians at Copland House and the Borromeo String Quartet have devoted themselves to the promotion of Copland's chamber works, and have assembled a comprehensive and enjoyable program, which Arabesque has recorded with clarity and resonance. Arranged chronologically, from the Movement for string quartet (1923) to the Threnodies (2) for flute and string trio (1971), the selections reveal both Copland's willingness to experiment and his undogmatic approach to styles, methods, and material. After hearing this double-disc, listeners will find much to like in this overlooked oeuvre -- even among the haunting serial works -- and gain a greater appreciation of Copland's versatility and depth. Blair Sanderson

1. Movement for String Quartet (1923)
2. Prelude for Piano Trio (1924)

Two Pieces for Violin and Piano (1926)
3. Nocturne
4. Ukulele Serenade

5. Vocalise for Flute and Piano (1928)

Two Pieces for String Quartet
6. Lento molto (1923)
7. Rondino (1928)

8. Vitebsk for Piano Trio (1928): Sextet for String Quartet, Clarinet and Piano (1933, rev. 1937)
9. Allegro vivace
10. Lento
11. Finale: precise and rhythmic

Sonata for Violin and Piano (1943)
1. Andante semplice
2. Lento
3. Allegretto giusto

Quartet for Piano and Strings (1950)
4. Adagio serio
5. Allegro giusto
6. Non troppo lento

Duo for Flute and Piano (1967-71)
7. Flowing
8. Poetic, somewhat mournful
9. Lively, with bounce

Two Threnodies for Flute and String Trio (1971)
10. In Memoriam: Igor Stravinsky
11. In Memoriam: Beatrice Cunningham

Derek Bermel: clarinet
Michael Boriskin: piano
Paul Lustig Dunkel: flute
Nicholas Kitchen: violin
Wilhelmina Smith: cello