Sunday, July 19, 2015


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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