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A comprehensive introduction to this Great American Composer
on 17 July 2011
These two CDs comprise almost 134 minutes of some of Copland's most popular works, played by some very fine Orchestras/Ensembles including The Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra under Zubin Mehta; The Detroit Symphony Orcherstra, under Antal Dorati; The London Sinfonietta under Elgar Howarth; The English Chamber Orchestra, with the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, under Carl Davies; The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, under Neville Marriner and The Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. It also features the voice of Gregory Peck.
If, like me, you came late to this highly-original and gifted composer, this is an excellent and fairly comprehensive collection on which to cut your teeth.
You will probably already be familiar with Fanfare for the Common Man, but the percussion in this version is the best I've heard. Appalacian Spring, with its eight sections ranging from just under two up to three-and-a-half minutes each, is a gem. The very slow introduction sucks you in to the simple American "backwoods" life and you are hooked; part seven - based on the Shaker Dance/Hymn (on which Sydney Carter based the tune for his 1963 Hymn "Lord of the Dance") is perhaps the pick. Part of the Lincoln Portrait is narrated by Gregory Peck and shows the Composer's patriotic commitment to the history of his native USA, inspite of his Lithuanian-Jewish heritage. One of the most original pieces in this collection is "The Quiet City", for cor Anglais, trumpet and strings.
The section of five songs from the Old American Song Books is, I believe the pick of the second disk. Copland sticks closely to the original melodies, yet his inventive and understated orchestration lifts these songs especially in "Simple Gifts" and "Long Time Ago" - the latter showcasing the excellent poetry of George Pope Morris.
I don't much care for the Dance Symphony, although I will concede it is highly original and brilliantly recorded, but the Four Dance Episodes in the Suite based on his ballet Rodeo are lively and vibrant with the highly original Saturday Night Waltz being particularly fine.
If you are looking to get to grips with Copland, then look no further, this high quality collection, at a very competitive price, is ideal.