More Copland from Chandos

COPLAND: ORCHESTRAL WORKS 3, BBC Philharmonic, John Wilson Chandos SACD CHSA 5195   John Wilson’s comprehensive survey of the orchestral works of Aaron Copland for Chandos has now reached its third Volume and like the earlier issues this one brings authoritative accounts of three of the composer’s lesser performed works and one of his most popular, performed here with typical brilliance by the BBC Philharmonic and captured in vivid multi-channel sound on SACD. The opening item on the disc is a performance of the delightfully carefree and energetic ‘An Outdoor Overture’ that Copland wrote in 1938 for the New York High School of Music and Art whilst simultaneously working on his ballet ‘Billy the Kid’. Leonard Bernstein was a champion of the work and in 1945 remarked “A lot of people thought it was kid stuff and refused to play it”. This overture has already appeared on SACD in a fine performance from Andrew Litton and the Colorado Symphony, but John Wilson’s account of the piece, delivered at a fractionally more measured pace, is arguably even more, persuasive as that from Litton. Copland’s ‘Symphony No. 1 for Large Orchestra’ (1926-28) that follows is a transcription of his Organ Symphony (1924), the organ part being replaced with added brass and saxophone, in an attempt to make the work more accessible in concert halls not possessing a suitable instrument. The latter work can be heard on Volume 2 of this series and provides a fascinating comparison with Wilson’s taut account of the purely orchestral work performed here.  ‘Statements’ (1932-35) was composed as the result of a commission from the League of Composers and intended for the Minneapolis Symphony and conductor Eugene Ormandy. It consists of six short movements with the rather obscure titles of ‘Militant’, ‘Cryptic’, ‘Dogmatic’, ‘Subjective’, ‘Jingo’, and ‘Prophetic’. Some have suggested that the work is related to the composer’s leftist leanings and socialist inclinations though there is no obvious programmatic narrative in these abstract, epigrammatic and often dissonant pieces. The final item on this disc is a thrilling account of the ‘Dance Symphony’ of 1929, a work arranged by Copland from the music for his unstaged ballet ‘Grohg’, itself inspired to some extent by Friedrich Murnau’s silent horror film ‘Nosferatu’ that the composer saw in 1922. Older readers will remember the excitement in the musical world when Oliver Knussen recorded the complete revised score of ‘Grohg’ with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1993 some two years after Copland’s death. The three-movement ‘Dance Symphony’ uses the Dance of the Adolescent, Dance of the Young Girl and Dance of Mockery from ‘Grohg’ to yield a work of colour, drama and contrast that perfectly showcases the considerable talent, both individually and collectively, of the BBC Philharmonic musicians. The recording of all four works took place on the 15th and 16th of June 2016 in the BBC studio in Media City, Salford whose acoustic provides the crispness and clarity of sound that this music requires. John Wilson’s commitment to all the music on this disc, much of which is challenging even to today’s listeners, is unequivocal, and thanks to the trenchant playing of the marvellous BBC Philharmonic his gripping performances make a convincing case for the wider dissemination of these neglected works. This disc is an essential addition to the library of all Copland devotees and makes one eager for the appearance of the next volume in this excellent series that will hopefully include the 3rd Symphony. Highly recommended.