Monday, April 20, 2015


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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