Monday, December 12, 2016


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The full, revised score of Copland's first ballet Grohg lay miscatalogued, thought lost, in the Library of Congress until the late 1980s. That is when Oliver Knussen found it. Grohg was the most ambitious undertaking of Copland's Paris years, the Nadia Boulanger years, and is an important piece of the Copland jigsaw. Its inspiration was Nosferatu, as portrayed in the 1921 German horror film. But only superficially, only in the sense that it alludes to silent-film melodrama of the macabre. Grohg is a kind of necrophile Svengali of the dance. The dead dance to his tunes, for his pleasure. This is X-rated Petrushka.

And, of course, the close proximity of Stravinsky can be felt in more than just the motoric rhythmic gyrations of the scene-setting "Dance of the Servitors". An odd mix, this. On the one hand is the puppet-like bassoon of folklore, the Petrushka connection, and on the other, the racy wood-block and xylophone-spiked world of Poulenc. Then there are Copland's own, newly liberated 'Americanisms': the Opium-eater's dance with its 'visions of jazz', slinking in like a kind of oriental blues; or the provocative burlesque variant of the Streetwalker's waltz eerily sexy with piano and muted trumpet emerging from the shadows. The Latinos are in there too—feisty, chilli-hot woodwinds, a vital element in the hallucinatory final scene. Knussen and the Cleveland Orchestra show exactly what they are made of in set-pieces like this, and Argo bring them to your listening room with time-honoured clarity and brilliance. But it's French sensibility which lends Grohg's last moments an unexpected pathos. Petrushka's ghost sensed if not seen.

By far the best music on the disc, though, is sandwiched between the fledgling ballets. Prelude for chamber orchestra is a re-working of material extracted from Copland's Symphony for organ and orchestra and owes everything to Boulanger's tender, loving care. At least, that is the effect she and her influence would appear to have had on its tactile scoring. And there is more where that came from—albeit fleetingly—in the cool and graceful Apollonesque idyll at the heart of Hear ye! Hear ye!. Now here is a novelty: a courtroom melodrama-cum-burlesque-cum-whodunit; a cabaret of contradictory re-enactments complete with gunshots and the crack of the Judge's gavel. Yet, in truth, it's dance music in search of its choreography. Copland's quirky off-kilter jazz just does not convince in its own right. It is still more of a gimmick than a compulsion. Give the young Copland his due, though: he lays down a band sound that is a formidable blueprint for the future. Leonard Bernstein was to play on it. American urban ballet starts here. First recordings, first-class quality. ES

Grohg - Ballet in One act (1922-25, revised 1932)
1. Introduction, Cortège and Entrance of Grohg 7:40
2. Dance of the Adolescent 6:27
4. Dance of the Streetwalker 3:42
5. Grohg imagines the Dead are mocking him 4:41
6. Illumination and Disappearance of Grohg 1:59

7. Prelude for chamber orchestra 6:04 (1924, arranged 1934)

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! - Ballet in One act (1934, version for small orchestra, 1935)
8. Scene i (Prelude) 1:36
9. Scenes ii-iv (The Courtroom; Dance of the Prosecuting Attorney; Danse of the Defense Attorney; Quarrel) 4:48
10. Scene v (The Nightclub hostess sworn in) 0:47
11. Scene vi (The Chorus-girls' first dance) 3:31
12. Scene vii (First Pas-de-deux) 2:49
13. Scene viii (Pas-de-deux continued; First murder) 2:54
14. Scenes ix-x (The Courtroom); The Noneymoon Couple sworn in) 1:30
15. Scene xi (The Chorus-girls' dance with doves) 2:18
16. Scene xii (Second Pas-de-deux with murder) 3:45
17. Scenes xiii-xiv (The Courtroom; the Waiter is sworn in) 1:24
18. Scene xv (The Chorus-girls' third dance) 1:29
19. Scene xvi (Third Pas-de-deux and Murder) 3:24
20. Scenes xvii-xviii (The Verdict; The Courtroom) 1:57

Grohg performed by the Cleveland Orchestra ; other selections performed by the London Sinfonietta. All works conducted by Oliver Knussen.

Grohg was recorded in Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio on May 3, 1993. Other selections were recorded in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, UK on June 29-30, 1993


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What a delightful, refreshing release! For decades Bridge has consistently released superbly engineered recordings of adventurous and enterprisingly chosen repertoire, performed to the highest artistic standards. Indeed, it would be hard to find any other label that does so much for so many contemporary performers and composers who otherwise might never enjoy the chance to reach the record buying public. Even on those occasions that the label ventures into the more popular standard classics, you can almost invariably count on finding some fresh new twist that gives the disc unusual interest. Here's a case in point. Who knew that none other than Arturo Toscanini made a piano-solo arrangement of El Salón México? If that's not a novelty, then what is?

And did anyone suspect at this late date that there was any music by Copland, however slight, that remained to be unearthed and recorded? Sure, Two Ballads for Violin and Piano (all that exists of a projected violin concerto for Isaac Stern) and Elegies for Violin and Viola (some of which became Statements for Orchestra) aren't major compositions, though this latter work remains a worthy exemplar of a seldom-exploited medium; but taken together with the Toscanini transcription, what we have here is certainly more than "just another Copland" disc, and everything is marvelously performed by pianist Diane Walsh and the two members of the Emerson String Quartet.

Besides, the major works are simply sensational. This recording goes straight to the top of the list for performances of the Appalachian Spring Suite in its original chamber scoring. Conductor Steven Richman's crisp, sprightly tempos in the quicker sections and his perfectly flowing, never-too-sentimental approach to the slow bits wake this music up like a brisk spring shower. No matter how well you know it, this version has the piece sounding like new. Music for the Theatre overflows with sassy, jazzy verve, the ironic wit of the Burlesque is strikingly caught and the Stravinskian snap to the music's rhythms is confident and secure. Through it all the Harmonie Ensemble plays as if it owns the music, and the sonics are simply the last word in naturalism and clarity. Fantastic.--David Hurwitz

Music for the Theatre
1 Prologue (05:56)
2 Dance (03:19)
3 Interlude (05:16)
4 Burlesque (03:17)
5 Epilogue (03:58)
Two Ballads for Violin and Piano
6 Andante: Simple and direct (02:22)
7 Moderato (02:54)
8 Elegies for Violin and Viola: Calm, expressive, firm; Piu mosso (06:24)
9 El Salon Mexico (10:45)
10 Appalachian Spring Suite for 13 Instruments (23:56)
Soloists: Emerson String Quartet members: Eugene Drucker, violin; Lawrence Dutton, viola.
With Diane Walsh, piano
Recorded February 11-13. 2002 at the Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, State University of New York

Saturday, November 12, 2016


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Aaron Copland didn't have the theatrical instinct of a George Gershwin or even a Gian Carlo Menotti, but that didn't keep him from writing one of the best operas we have in the "American" vein. The Tender Land was composed in 1953 on a commission from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II--who since the premiere of Oklahoma! 10 years earlier could afford such largesse--and received its premiere on April 1, 1954 at the City Center in New York. Concerning a girl transformed into a young woman by her first experience of love, The Tender Land is set in the American Midwest during the 1930s. The libretto by Horace Everett (a pseudonym of Erik Johns) was inspired by photographs taken by Walker Evans of a rural, Depression-era mother and her daughter that had appeared in James Agee's book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

The music is cut from the same cloth as that of Appalachian Spring--the melodic, easygoing, folkish vein that Copland could manage about as easily as breathing. Lightly scored (calling for winds and brass in twos) and with spoken dialogue in the style of the musical stage, the score has come to be regarded as one of Copland's finest, as he himself believed it to be. You couldn't get a more authentic cast than the one heard here, consisting entirely of good American singers whose delivery is appropriately nonoperatic, and including Minnesota native Elisabeth Comeaux in the central role of Laurie. Philip Brunelle leads the forces of the Minnesota-based Plymouth Music Series in an idiomatic if slightly underpowered performance that comes from the Heartland and goes straight to the heart. Ted Libbey
Although the folk-tinged ballet scores that made Copland the quintessential American composer of the early 1940's are outside the scope of this selection, he worked along similar lines well into the 50's. ''The Tender Land,'' his 1956 opera about a girl's coming of age on a Midwest farm, is the culmination of this style, offering both the orchestral warmth and evocativeness of ''Appalachian Spring'' and the homey vocal writing of ''Old American Songs.'' Its attractions include a gorgeous quintet (''The promise of living''), an infectious barn dance (''Stomp your foot'') and a touching finale. The Brunelle recording, with Elisabeth Comeaux as Laurie and Dan Dressen as Martin, does the score full justice. Allan Kozinn

Disc: 11. The Tender Land: Prelude
2. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 1: The Front Yard Of The Moss Home
3. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 1: 'Two Little Bits Of Metal'
4. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 1: The Arrival Of The Postman
5. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 2: Opening The Package
6. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 2: 'This Is Like The Dress I Never Had'
7. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 2: Dance And Exit
8. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 3: Laurie's Entrance: 'Once I Thought I'd Never Grow
9. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 3: Ma's Entrance
10. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 3: 'Remember The Boy That Used To Call'; Ma's Exit
11. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 4: Entrance Of Martin And Top
12. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 4: Martin And Top Enter The Farmyard
13. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 4: Duet: 'We've Been North'
14. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 4: Grandpa Meets The Boys
15. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 4: Trio: 'A Stranger May Seem Strange That's True'
16. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 4: Interlude - Martin And Top Make Horseplay
17. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 5: The Invitation
18. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 5: Quintet - 'The Promise Of Living'
CD1 Duration: 42:23
Disc: 21. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 1: The Graduation Eve Supper
2. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 1: The Supper Ends
3. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 1: Grandpa's Toast: 'Try Makin' Peace'
4. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 1: Laurie's reply: 'Thank You, Thank You All'
5. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 1: The Invitaition To Dance
6. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 1: The Dance: 'Stomp Your Foot Upon The Floor'
7. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 2: Dance Music And Dialogue
8. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: Party Music Back In The House
9. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: Top's Song: 'Oh, I Was Goin' A-Courtin'
10. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: The Dancing Resumes
11. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: Duet: 'You Dance Real Well'
12. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: 'Laurie...You Know, Laurie'
13. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: Duet: 'In Love? In Love?'
14. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: 'The Tender Land'
15. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 4: Grandpa's Confrontation
16. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 4: Party Farewell
17. The Tender Land: Act Three: Introduction
18. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 1: Entr'acte
19. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 1: Duet: 'Laurie, Laurie...'
20. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 1: Martin Alone: 'Daylight Will Come In Such Short TIme'
21. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 1: Dialogue
22. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 1: Top's Aria: 'That's Crazy' And Exit Of Martin And Top'
23. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 2: Interlude: Daybreak
24. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 2: 'The Sun Is Coming Up'
25. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 2: Laurie's Farewell
26. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 2: 'All Thinking's Done'
CD2 Duration: 64:12

Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of The Plymouth Music Series Minnesota, directed by Philip Brunelle
Recorded October, 1989 at Ordway Music Theatre, St Paul, Minnesota

Friday, May 20, 2016


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Hello Friends: Today we have a real treat, courtesy of some generous online friends. I have obtained the kind permission of Southview212 to share with you the never-before-released original tracks from Copland's THE HEIRESS score. Please keep in mind that these are rough-sounding recordings taken from the original acetates. They were never intended for release and they are encoded @320kbps, MP3.

There are 14 untitled tracks, approximately 26 minutes of music. Aside from an eight-minute suite recorded by Leonard Slatkin and The St. Louis Symphony (available here on this blog), this is the only existing source (that I am aware of) of this score, which is truly in need of a complete restoration and recording.

Thanks also to my friend Jean for allowing me to utilize the "cover art" he designed for this THE HEIRESS. enjoy! Scoredaddy

For a well-researched article on this music, please read "You Have Cheated Me”: Aaron Copland’s Compromised Score to The Heiress which was published in Film Score Monthly May/June 2005. Written by James Lochner


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Apparently, the Bernstein Century aims to issue every scrap Bernstein recorded for Columbia. Although this will prove invaluable for archivists and fanatics (myself included), Bernstein's wide range of activity produced some pretty marginal stuff. The Second Hurricane was written in 1936 for a high school performance (directed by Orson Welles!) but the painfully trite libretto seems more like one of those grade-school pageants that charm doting parents while their little Jimmy or Suzie is up on the stage, but otherwise is pretty grim. Copland's music, though, is full of fine, unpretentious touches. The dozen musical numbers begin each of the CD tracks, so you can skip most of the stilted dramatic interludes; otherwise, the overall effect is pretty doleful. In the Beginning is a colorful but reverent a cappella setting of scripture, written for the Robert Shaw Chorale in 1947.

A mono recording, one that hasn't been released until now, is that of Copland's In the Beginning. This is an attractive a cappella work with texts based on the book of Genesis, and it's hard to say why the present recording sat in the can so long. Perhaps it's because the sound is a little muddy, even by 1953 standards. I can't hear any gross deficiencies in the performance, and Lipton is a good singer with clear diction. Furthermore, this is a rare opportunity to hear Bernstein in the role of a choral conductor. The Second Hurricane dates from the Depression era; its first director was Orson Welles. It's a school opera, and in that way it reminds me of Britten's Let's Make an Opera! and Noye's Fludde. It's mostly on that level, musically speaking. The story concerns six high school heroes, their worried parents, and their friends. The heroes have been sent to a hurricane-stricken area to provide disaster relief. (When was FEMA founded?) On the way, their plane develops difficulties, and they are stranded on a hill while the pilot flies off in search of mechanical help. Frustrated and scared, they begin to quarrel, and it's only the threat of a second hurricane that pulls them together. Eventually, they are rescued, and there is the requisite happy ending. Bernstein is the avuncular narrator, and he keeps the action flowing. (Together, the two acts last barely more than 45 minutes.) The young people of the High School of Music and Art carry out their solo and ensemble duties with maturity. There are no texts, but you'll be able to understand the words anyway. The 1960-vintage sound is excellent.

1. In The Beginning (1947)
Martha Lipton, mezzo-soprano with Chorus Pro Musica

The Second Hurricane (A Play Opera in Two Acts) 1936
2. Choral Overture
3. We Don't Know, We Don't Know
4. What's Happened, Where Are They?
5. Gyp's Song
6. How Childish They Are
7. Like A Giant Bomb
8. Introduction
9. Two Willow Hill
10. Sextet
11. Jeff's Song
12. Queenie's Song
13. The Capture Of Burgoyne
14. Finale
Soloists & Chorus of the High School of Music and Art, New York City
Leonard Bernstein, narrator

New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein

#1 was recorded on May 27, 1953 in New York City, NY; all others recorded on April 3, 1960 at the Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York City, NY