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