Sunday, September 13, 2015


new link in comments

Saxophonist Christopher Brellochs breathes new life into forgotten musical works with the Sono Luminus release of Quiet City. This world premiere recording resurrects the unpublished score of Aaron Copland’s incidental music for the Irwin Shaw play Quiet City, in a new adaptation by Christopher Brellochs.

During his doctoral studies Brellochs obtained a copy of the unpublished manuscript to Quiet City from saxophonist and historian Paul Cohen. The score was handwritten by Copland, included cues and actor’s lines, and called for a chamber ensemble of trumpet, saxophone (doubling on clarinet), clarinet (doubling on bass clarinet), and piano. Here was never before heard music of the highest quality, by an iconic American composer.

Brellochs was granted the exclusive right to record and perform his newly reconstructed chamber adaptation of “Quiet City” by Boosey & Hawkes and The Aaron Copland Fund for Music. This unique opportunity to make a world premiere recording has lead to a search for other unrecorded works by American composers. The results of that search include the whirlwind composition “Sound Moves Blues” by Robert Aldridge, the charming “Suite for Trumpet, Alto Saxophone, and Piano” by Seymour Barab and the invitation to guest artist Paul Cohen to contribute previously unreleased recordings of works by Leo Ornstein, Walter Hartley and Lawson Lunde. Every work on Quiet City features world premiere recordings of prominent American composers.

Saxophonist, composer and arranger Christopher Brellochs has performed at Carnegie Hall and in solo recitals throughout the Northeast, as well as the 32nd International Saxophone Symposium. He was a recent guest artist and lecturer with the Poné Ensemble at SUNY New Paltz (2010) performing his new adaptation of Copland’s “Quiet City”.

Brellochs has lectured at the Manhattan School of Music and a College Music Society Conference on the topics “Benjamin Britten and the Saxophone” and “Aaron Copland and the Saxophone”. His article, “Aaron Copland’s Use of the Saxophone in Wind Band Repertoire,” was published in the Journal of the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles. Paul Cohen (saxophone) has appeared as soloist with the San Francisco Symphony, Richmond Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, Charleston Symphony and Philharmonia Virtuosi. Cohen’s recent concerts included an Artist - in Residency at the Royal College of Music and Dance in Cardiff, Wales as well as performances at Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other stages with the New York Philharmonic, New Hudson Saxophone Quartet and the Manhattan Sinfonietta.

This release is sure to be a favorite with fans of the saxophone and new music, as well as a spectacular addition to the collection of enthusiasts of the works of Copland.

Christopher Brellochs, saxophone
Paul Cohen, saxophone
Mitchell Krieger, clarinets
Allison Brewster Franzetti, piano
Donald Batchelder, trumpet
Richard Clarke, viola
Louis Anderson, piano

Aaron Copland
Leo Ornstein
Robert Aldridge
Walter S. Hartley
Lawson Lunde
Seymour Barab

1. Quiet City - Aaron Copland, adapted by Christopher Brellochs

2. Ballade - Leo Ornstein

3. Sound Moves Blues - Robert Aldridge

Lyric Suite - Walter S. Hartley
4. I. Prelude
5. II. Scherzino
6. III. Nocturne
7. IV. Gigue

Sonata for Soprano Saxophone and Piano Op.37 (“Alpine”) - Lawson Lunde
8. I. Allegro moderato
9. II. Vivo

Suite for Trumpet, Alto Saxophone and Piano - Seymour Barab
10. I. Allegro
11. II. Slow waltz
12. III. Allegro
13. IV. Molto lento
14. V. Allegro molto

Sunday, July 19, 2015


new link in comments

There comes a time when you just have to grow up and face the fact that Aaron Copland really was the great American composer of the twentieth century. Everyone knows his music and everyone loves his music. And the more Copland you listen to, the better he gets. Even his film scores have great stuff in them. The big tunes, the populist rhetoric, the brilliant orchestral colors, and the sense of awe and transcendence that are the hallmarks of his best music can be heard in his film music.

In this recording by Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Copland's film music gets the full Technicolor treatment. Their music from The Red Pony has its humor, grandeur, and an aching lyricism. Their suite from Our Town has its stoicism and its romanticism. The suite from The Heiress has its pathos and irony. Their Music for Movies has its bathos and bombast. And their closing #Prairie Journal has its epic scope and occasionally trivial tunes. Slatkin leads with energy and conviction. The St. Louis plays with subtleness and strength. RCA's early-'90s digital sound is warm and rich and full. ~ James Leonard

An unmissable Copland collection. Though the front cover bears the title "Music for Films", the earliest offering here was written in 1936 following a commission from the CBS radio network. Music for Radio (also known as Saga of the Prairies or Prairie Journal) was one of Copland's first conscious efforts to attain a greater simplicity of utterance and stronger melodic appeal, and its clean-cut, out-of-doors demeanour is relished to the full by these performers. Copland wrote eight film scores in all, the first three of which—The City (1939), Of Mice and Men (1939) and Our Town (1940)—formed the basis for his 1943 concert suite, Music for Movies. Slatkin gauges the differing moods of each of the five tableaux with unerring perception and the playing of his St Louis group easily scores over Copland's New Philharmonia (on a three-disc set) in terms of infectious panache and memorable poise.

Perhaps Copland's most enduring achievement in this particular field remains his 1948 score for The Red Pony. Again, the new performance is all one could wish, possessing a homespun delicacy ("The Gift"), infinitely touching affection ("Walk to the Bunkhouse") and poignant nostalgia ("Grandfather's Story") that really capture the imagination. There's real swagger, too, in the joyous "Happy Ending" number (such deliciously pointed trombones at 0'32"!) as well as a truly exhilarating sense of wide-screen spectacle. Indeed, neither rival production can match the present display: the composer's own recording is, in all truth, not untainted by a certain stiffness and the hard-edged recording now sounds uncomfortably dated, whilst Sedares's Phoenix account of the film score is just a touch cautious (and his hardworking strings are rather lacking in body and muscle as recorded).

In addition, Slatkin also gives us the heart-warmingly evocative concert suite Copland compiled from his score for Our Town (more easefully flowing than Copland's occasionally sticky LSO version), as well as a first commercial recording for Arnold Freed's idiomatic 1990 reconstruction of Copland's Academy Award-winning 1948 score for The Heiress, which happily restores the "Prelude" that director William Wyler rejected for the final print. With excitingly full-bodied Powell Hall sonics to match, this compilation is a winner all the way. AA

The Red Pony (1948) 23:15
1. Morning on the Ranch [4:30]
2. Gift [4:46]
3. Dream March [2:25]
4. Circus Music [1:43]
5. Walk to the Bunkhouse [2:37]
6. Grandfather's Story [3:41]
7. Happy Ending [3:01]

8. Our Town (1940) 9:05

9. Heiress Suite (1948) 8:06
Prelude/Catherine's Engagement/Cherry Red Dress/Depart

Music For The Movies (1943)
10. New England Countryside [5:11]
11. Barley Wagons [2:13]
12. Sunday Traffic [2:28]
13. Grovers Corners [2:20]
14. Threshing Machines [3:01]

15. Prairie Journal [Music for Radio] 1936 [11:20]

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin
Recorded November 22, 1991 and April 18, 1992 at Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis, MO USA

Monday, April 20, 2015


new link in comments

Copland originally wrote ''Appalachian Spring'' for 13 instruments, all that could fit in the pit for the 1944 premiere of the Martha Graham ballet - a version he suppressed once the suite for full orchestra caught on. With his concise and rhythmically exciting ''Short Symphony'' (1933) he did something of the reverse; since it proved too difficult for many orchestras, he made a sextet setting, which we are likelier to encounter. Here are variants on both originals - the ''Spring'' Suite in a chamber orchestration (the 13 instruments plus extra strings), the symphony in a chamber orchestra reduction devised by Dennis Russell Davies - along with chamber orchestra renditions of ''Quiet City'' and ''Three Latin American Sketches.'' Orpheus plays with verve if not an especially original point of view. In DG's recording, close and striking, the ''Short Symphony'' is a real grabber. Mark Swed
With exceptionally vivid sound, bright and immediate, giving a realistic sense of presence, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra's collection makes for a very distinctive Copland record of four works in which the composer is at his most approachable. The version of Appalachian Spring recorded here is neither the usual orchestral suite nor the ballet version, but a combination of the two which I cannot remember hearing on record before. In this version, published in 1958, Copland simply makes the same cuts as in the orchestral suite, but keeps the light, transparent scoring of the 13-instrument ballet version, though on his authority the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra augment the string section. The result is a delight, with each instrument cleanly identifiable, underlining the wide-open-spaces freshness of Copland's inspiration. The rhythmic bite is sharpened with the prominent piano giving the texture a distinctive colouring. The extra strings add a degree of sweetness without inflation.

The scale of performance in the other works, too, is most winning. The jaggedly obvious Stravinskyan echoes in the first movement of the Short Symphony are underlined by the closeness of the performance. Though this work, written between 1931 and 1933, uses triple woodwind, horns, trumpets, piano and strings, the absence of heavy brass and percussion prompted the composer himself to suggest that it is ''an enlarged chamber orchestra''. That is just the impression that a performance on the Orpheus scale conveys, with the relatively intimate acoustic of the Performing Arts Center at New York State University, Purchase, concentrating the sound, adding to the impact, though without aggression.

The hushed musical city-scape of Quiet city on this scale may not be quite so mistily evocative as with a full orchestra, but the intensity is if anything even greater, particularly when the trumpet and cor anglais soloists are so characterful. The Three Latin American Sketches date from several decades later. The second and third were written for the 1959 Spoleto Festival, and in 1971 Copland added the first to make the present effective triptych of fast, slow, fast, with the Latin-American rhythms of the final ''Danza de Jalisco'' particularly catchy.

In all this music the cutting edge of Copland's invention is enhanced in performances as immaculately drilled as these. Though there is nothing heartless about them there is a consistent sense of corporate purposefulness, of live communication made the more intense by the realism of the recording. Edward Greenfield

1. Appalachian Spring: Suite (1944-1945) 25:26

Symphony No 2 "Short Symphony" (1932-1933)
2. I. Tempo = 144 (incisivo) 4:27
3. II. Tempo = circa 44 5:27
4. III. Tempo = 144 (preciso e ritmico) 5:46

5. Quiet City (1939) 9:26
Stephen Taylor (English Horn), Raymond Mase (Trumpet)

Three Latin American Sketches (1972)6. Estribillo 3:11
7. Paisaje Mexicano 3:30
8. Danza de Jalisco 3:39

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Recorded in March, 1988 at the Performing Arts Center, State University of New York, Purchase, NY USA

Thursday, March 19, 2015


new link in comments

Aaron Copland, like Cole Porter, reversed his musical course in the 1930s from his earlier, astringent, severe form of classical writing to a more accessible, tonal style. Porter, of course, completely gave up his classical style to become a top popular and Broadway songwriter, while Copland went on to score multiple successes writing classical music for “everyman.” But when you aim for Everyman, you get just that, a blanket homogeneity of style that sounds alike, or very similar, piece after piece after piece, and unfortunately, this is what Copland achieved.

His best (but not necessarily his most popular) music in this style was the opera The Tender Land, an oft-neglected masterpiece that puts anything John Adams or Jake Heggie wrote to shame; the Clarinet Concerto; El salon Mexico; some of his later chamber works; and two pieces on this disc, the 8 Poems of Emily Dickinson and the “Short Symphony.” Dance Panels, composed in 1959 and revised in 1962, begins with a marvelous introduction, including some foreboding but interesting harmonic clashes, but quickly settles down into the sort of Everyman Generic Classical Sound that was a hallmark of his style. Gerard Schwarz’s recording with the New York Chamber Symphony (EMI 49095) is clean but glib, though exciting in the fast movements. Copland’s own recording with the London Symphony (Sony SM2K 47236) is a little slower but considerably warmer, with more legato phrasing that makes the slow passages more attractive. Davies’ performance here is similar in approach to Copland’s, but recorded in a cleaner, less warm acoustic. It’s very, very fine, but none of the three performances convince me that the music is anything but functional.

The “Short Symphony” is given an outstanding reading by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony (RCA 68541) that I found both thrilling and able to project the very best qualities of the music, contrasting its quirky motor rhythms (the opening of the first movement always puts me in mind of the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” theme song) with the more lyrical sections brilliantly. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (DG 427335) also does a fine job but, as is often the case with Orpheus, there is a certain clinical sound in slow passages that disturbs me. Davies takes it somewhere in between, but plays the entire symphony—short though it is—quite a bit slower than written. The opening movement, for instance, clearly indicated in the score as quarter note = 144, is taken by Davies at quarter note = 138. In a sense, this helps alleviate the slightly “cartoony” quality of the rhythms, but I found the last movement, taken at the same tempo (hey, at least he’s consistent!), less exciting and invigorating than Tilson Thomas.

The Dickinson songs are among Copland’s finest achievements, not a page, not a phrase, sounding mechanical or merely functional to my ears, but as I am really fussy about singers I didn’t know how Helene Schneiderman, whom I had never heard of before, would sound in them. As it turns out, she is simply wonderful. Her light, airy, sweet high mezzo voice, sounding very soprano-ish to my ears, interprets the words with wry humor and fine clarity of diction. She is not only finer than Dawn Upsaw (Teldec 28169), but I can pay her no higher compliment than to say that she equals or surpasses the 1982 recording by the legendary Marni Nixon (Reference Recordings 22) with Keith Clark and the Pacific Symphony, though this may be because Davies is a finer and more emotionally responsive conductor. In toto, then, a fine performance of Dance Panels, a first-rate version of the Dickinson songs, and a very good if not scintillating “Short Symphony.” If you don’t have the Nixon recording of the Dickinson, you’ll definitely want this disc. FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley

Dance Panels (1959, rev 1962)
1. Introduction: Moderato 4:45
2. Allegretto con tenerezza 5:06
3. Scherzando 3:16
4. Pas de trois: Lento 5:12
5. Con brio 3:32
6. Con moto 1:55
7. Molto ritmico 5:08

Eight Poems of Emily Dickenson (1949/1950)
8. Nature, the Gentlest Mother
9. There Came a Wind Like a Bugle
10. The World Feels Dusty
11. Heart, We Will Forget Him
12. Dear March, Come In!
13. Sleep Is Supposed to Be
14. Going to Heaven!
15. The Chariot

Helene Schneiderman (mezzo-soprano)

Symphony No 2 "Short Symphony" (1932-1933)
16. I. Tempo = 144 (incisivo) 4:41
17. II. Tempo = circa 44 5:25
18. III. Tempo = 144 (preciso e ritmico) 5:49

Orchestra of St. Luke's
Dennis Russell Davies (conductor)

Sunday, January 18, 2015


new link in comments by request

It was Eugene Ormandy who persuaded Copland to reinstate and re-orchestrate those pages of music that he had omitted from the orchestral suite. In contention are several minutes of music leading up to the final tutti statement of the Shaker hymn Simple gifts; by no means the most inspired or accomplished music in the score, perhaps—and particularly when divorced from the physical drama on stage—but a substantial and dramatic sequence building from under a cloud of anxiety, with driving, stuttering ostinatos and the urgent summons of brass and alarm bell. Moments of consolation and repose come and go—one senses the hopes and fears of the settlers—until confidence is fully restored with the Shaker hymn emerging affirmatively from the crisis, its effect to my mind greatly heightened by the uncertainty of what has gone before. At least those were my thoughts at the close of Slatkin's persuasive and big-hearted reading. And I can see why he should have chosen Copland's full orchestral garb in preference to the pithier chamber original. I don't recall these contentious 'extra' pages making anything like such an impression in the composer's complete CBS recording of the original version.

Grohg (the 'h' inserted "to avoid alcoholic connotation!"), Copland's earliest ballet, a 'vampire ballet' inspired by the German expressionist movie Nosferatu, was never staged or even choreographed. Some of its music was later recycled for the Dance Symphony, but "Cortege macabre" was one of two sections salvaged for concert purposes. It was Copland's first orchestral score and the second to be performed. And it is very much as the title would suggest: a grisly processional, disrupted briefly by the energetic "Servitors' Dance" (echoes of Barber's Medea—Slatkin himself has pointed to the similarities) and building to a resplendent trill and glissando-laden entrance for Grohg himself.

Of the two remaining pieces, Letter from home was commissioned by Paul Whiteman and the American Broadcasting Company and premiered on radio less than two weeks before the Washington premiere of Appalachian Spring. It belongs very much within that nostalgic, rather homely rural America context. As does John Henry— originally designated "A railroad ballet for small orchestra" but later revised for this larger orchestra some years later. The folk-hero/construction worker of the title was said to have pitted his manual skills against a steam hammer—and won, "at the cost of his own life". And Copland's energetic little tone-poem, another radio commission, is replete with the strains of steel and steam trains and one of those very heroic, prairiefied outdoor themes. All three of these shorter pieces might be deemed curio rather than vintage Copland, but anyone at all interested in the development of his music will want to hear them—at least once. Slatkin and his orchestra do them proud. Warm, sumptuous recording. E.S.

1. Appalachian Spring (complete ballet) (1945) 36:33
2. Cortége macabre from “Grohg” (1922-25, revised 1932) 13:43
3. Letter from Home (1943-1944) 6:39
4. John Henry (1940) 3:45

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin
Recorded at Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis, MO USA