Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Excellent complex, meaty Copland


The second disc in the Chandos series of Copland Orchestral Works is much more interesting, in my opinion, than the first, which included suites and other excerpts from Copland's perennially popular ballets. Again we have John Wilson conducting the BBC Philharmonic, in recordings made in Manchester and Salford at the beginning of 2016. Besides the virtuoso work of the orchestral musicians, the stars of the recording are organist Jonathan Scott and his instrument, the Marcussen & Søn Organ at The Bridgewater Hall. Copland's early Organ Symphony is an accomplished work considering his relative youth and I'm sure it makes a real impression at a live concert. It makes an impression here as well, with the usual warm Chandos sound (though I didn't get a chance to hear the surround-sound version of the disc). This is a work that has been well-served on disc; besides the famous Bernstein recording from 1967 with E. Power Biggs, there are fine recordings from Dallas, San Francisco and St. Louis, as well as another BBC recording from London, with Leonard Slatkin.

The real meat of the disc, though, comes from the other three works from the 1930s, each of which finds Copland reaching farther into more complex rhythms and away from the more simple-sounding Americana that became the most popular strand of his work throughout his career. Copland ran into difficulties with orchestras and conductors (including such giants as Stokowski and Koussevitsky) over the perceived difficulty of this music, and re-scoring and multiple rehearsals didn't really solve the issue. I'm not sure if the BBC Philharmonic players experienced any real problems in preparation, but they not only sound completely assured here, the music itself seems not especially complex to my ears. This, I think was a problem in the mid-20th century with many composers' works. Just this morning I read this in the liner notes to the new recording of Wozzeck with Fabio Luisi:
Claus Spahn: "The conductor of the world premiere, Erich Kleiber, needed 15 ensemble rehearsals and 34 orchestral rehearsals. Is Wozzeck still an extremely difficult work today?"
Luisi: "On a purely technical level, the score is no longer the problem as it was in Kleiber's day, because we now have much more experience with the music of the twentieth century."
My guess is that Wilson might say exactly the same thing about conducting these fine orchestral works by this American pioneer of both folkloric and modernist music. Kudos to Chandos and the players; I look forward to the next release in the series, which I trust will include Symphony no. 3, one of the greatest of American symphonies.

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