Copland: Orchestral Works, Vol. 4 (Symphonies) - Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5222
Classical - Orchestral
Copland: Symphony No. 3, Letter from Home, Down a Country Lane, Connotations
John Wilson (conductor)
‘I hope you will knuckle down to a good symphony’, wrote Samuel Barber in September 1944 to his fellow composer Aaron Copland: ‘We deserve it of you, and your career is all set for it.’ It was a strange thing to say given that Copland had already composed a variety of symphonies, albeit admittedly all more experimental than Barber might have preferred.
The fourth volume in the highly acclaimed Copland series from John Wilson and the BBC Philharmonic opens with the resoundingly successful Symphony No. 3 (1944 – 46). The optimistic spirit of this work resonated perfectly with the euphoria of post-war America, resulting in its becoming an emblem of US nationalism. This lesser-recorded original version comes complete with the twelve bars which Bernstein later suggested cutting from the fourth movement.
Three commissions complement the symphony: Letter from Home (1944) reflects the feelings of receiving a letter from a loved one. Down a Country Lane (originally commissioned by Life magazine as a solo piano work) is here performed in its orchestral version (1964), re-imagined for a series of concerts showcasing youth orchestras. Connotations (1962), a twelve-note serial composition premiered by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic at the inauguration of The Philharmonic Hall, complete this invigorating surround-sound album.
Review by Graham Williams - November 1, 2018
John Wilson's illuminating and finely engineered series of recordings for Chandos of the orchestral and symphonic works of Aaron Copland has been especially noteworthy not only for the inclusion of the composer’s most familiar compositions but also for a number his lesser known pieces that rarely, if ever, appear on concert programmes.
This latest volume continues the pattern by coupling Copland's monumental 3rd Symphony with a pair of comparatively light-weight and accessible pieces plus a major neglected composition from 1962.
This latter work is 'Connotations' commissioned by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic for a gala concert inaugurating the orchestra's new home in Lincoln Centre. The celebrity audience at the premiere included the First Lady Jackie Kennedy, fellow composers, distinguished politicians and leading figures in the arts world. ‘Connotations’ is composed in a single movement lasting around twenty minutes (here 18.42) that certainly challenges the listener. It uses Copland's own take on serialism and contrast of mood is provided by alternating fast and slow passages. The brilliant orchestration features pungent strings, harsh winds and pounding percussion. Wilson's committed and incisive performance combined with the superb playing of the BBC Philharmonic could hardly do more justice to this uncompromising but rewarding piece.
Copland's 3rd Symphony has appeared only once before on SACD in a most recommendable version from Carlos Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony Spirit of the American Range - Kalmar. John Wilson opts for a slightly more energetic and lively approach to the score than Kalmar without short changing the vital breadth and expansiveness of the Symphony's outer movements. The jazzy second movement and perky central section of the third certainly benefit from the precision and rhythmic bite that Wilson engenders from his Manchester based musicians. The Chandos sonics reflect the clarity of the recording acoustic (MediaCityUK, Salford) and allow the climaxes to be delivered with considerable punch. Pentatone provide a warmer, less immediate, sound that beautifully captures the acoustic signature of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Kansas. A clear choice between the two versions is frankly impossible and for many listeners it may well be determined by their respective couplings.
In 1944 the bandleader Paul Whiteman established the Creative Music Fund to commission a series of short works, to be played by his own orchestra, for a late night radio show. The generous financial incentive offered ($1000) tempted a number of leading composers to submit their compositions. These included, amongst others, Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Roy Harris and Igor Stravinsky. ‘Letter from Home’ was Copland’s contribution and it was duly premiered by Whiteman in 1944 October. Copland subsequently revised the piece twice and it is his final version for chamber orchestra that is recorded here. ‘Down a Country Lane’ is also scored for small forces. Originally written as a solo piano piece, Copland orchestrated it in 1964 and in its orchestra garb it became a popular choice for school and youth orchestras.
With their finely paced and idiomatic performances, Wilson and the BBC Philharmonic convey the homespun simplicity and melodic warmth of these two engaging and unpretentious pieces making a fitting conclusion to what is another most impressive addition to this valuable series.
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