Copland: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 (Symphonies) - Scott / Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5171
Classical - Orchestral
Copland: Symphony for Organ & Orchestra; Orchestral Variations; Short Symphony; Symphonic Ode
Jonathan Scott (organ)
John Wilson (conductor)
Following a highly successful recording of Copland’s ballet music, John Wilson, a specialist in American music, and the BBC Philharmonic present the first volume of the composer’s complete symphonic output.
This unique collection of vivid and energetic pieces highlights Copland’s personal, unorthodox compositional language. The mixture of works of austerity and tense excitement ranges widely, from the twenty Orchestral Variations on an original theme (originally written for piano) to the single-movement controversial Symphonic Ode, a rhythmically complex piece written in its original incarnation for a huge orchestra including eight horns and five trumpets.
The album features also the lesser-known Short Symphony (No. 2) and early Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, in which the solo instrument throughout is closely integrated with the music of the orchestra.
The organ soloist is the young Jonathan Scott. Since a highly successful Gershwin concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2014, he is increasingly acclaimed around the world for his performances of American music.
This album was recorded in the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester and is released as a surround sound SACD.
Review by Graham Williams - September 1, 2016
This rewarding second volume in the Chandos's survey of Copland Orchestral works from John Wilson and the BBC Philharmonic could hardly be more different from the first that appeared in January this year Copland: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 (Ballets) - Wilson . Vol.1 featured three of the composer's most popular ballets – immediately accessible music full of memorable tunes and catchy syncopated rhythms. Though the music here is somewhat more astringent, it does possess an uncompromising muscularity that will be appreciated by admirers of this composer, especially when as well performed and recorded as here.
Copland began his imposing 1924 'Symphony for Organ and Orchestra' in France while he was still studying with Nadia Boulanger to whom the work is dedicated and it was this piece that first brought fame to the young composer. Unusually it has three movements like a concerto which is possibly why Copland wrote that the “ organ is treated as an integral part of the orchestra rather than as a solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment”. Nevertheless the work is in most respects a virtuoso concerto, and, as Jonathan Scott the superb organ soloist on this recording notes, the organ writing is deceptively complex from both rhythmic and technical viewpoints. Wilson and the BBC Philharmonic give a scintillating performance of the Symphony with vivid and incisive playing that makes the most of Copland's brilliant scoring, especially in the propulsive jazzy scherzo and the sweeping grandeur of the finale.
Best of all, the recording of the Organ Symphony took place in the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (16 January 2016) one of Britain's finest concert halls in terms of its spacious acoustic and tonal clarity. Naturally Jonathan Scott is able to demonstrate to the full the range and capability of the hall's magnificent pipe organ built by Marcussen & Søn of Aabenraa in Denmark, while organ buffs will enjoy reading the instrument's full specification printed in the liner notes. The Chandos engineering team have excelled themselves in capturing both the subtle detail and also the awe-inspiring scale of the piece in magnificent 5.0 multi-channel sound.
The remaining three works on the disc were recorded in the orchestra's home studio at MediaCityUK, Salford.
In 1957 Copland made an orchestral arrangement of his 'Piano Variations' – originally composed in 1930 – in response to a commission from the Louisville Symphony Orchestra. This is one of the composer's least performed orchestral works, its generally stern demeanour, jagged harmonies and taut construction seemingly not to have found favour with the public at large. Wilson and the BBC Philharmonic though make a very strong case for the piece with their committed and crisply recorded performance.
Copland's Short Symphony (Symphony No.2), dedicated to his friend the composer Carlos Chávez who successfully premiered the work (after no less than ten rehearsals!) in 1934, is cast in three connected movements (fast-slow-fast). It is a playful and vivacious piece with immediate listener appeal that at times seems to anticipate both the later Cowboy ballets and 'El Salon Mexico'. Listening to the almost effortless assurance with which the brilliant BBC Philharmonic musicians manage the rhythmic intricacies of this score it is hard to believe that it was once thought to be unplayable.
The imposing 'Symphonic Ode' (1927-29) that completes this programme was originally scored for a huge orchestra requiring eighteen brass players and an enormous percussion section. Declamatory passages for heavy brass alternate with both jazzy and more reflective sections and the piece eventually builds to a pounding, almost Mahlerian, peroration. Copland revised it in 1955 for the more modest forces heard here but, in spite of his attempt to make it more accessible, this austere work has made little headway in the concert hall. Wilson obviously believes in the piece and his orchestra perform it with their characteristic flare.
Once again the Chandos recording is first rate with pin sharp detail and a spacious sound stage typical of the MediaCity studio and the excellent work of engineer Stephen Rinker.
Copyright © 2016 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net