Copland: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 - Symphonies (SACD)

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BBC Philharmonic, John Wilson

The exploration by John Wilson of Copland’s major orchestral output with the BBC Philharmonic has now reached Volume 3, with this invigorating programme recorded in surround-sound. 

It opens with An Outdoor Overture, a cheerful and breezy piece which Copland composed in 1938, intending to spearhead an initiative encouraging ‘American Music for American Youth’.

Originally written for organ and orchestra, the First Symphony is presented here in its revised version (1926-28) for large orchestra. The six concise movements of Statements (1932-35) introduce a new style, their gritty soundscapes being stunning examples of what Copland later would refer to as ‘hard-bitten’ pieces. 

The concluding work is the expressive, fantastical Dance Symphony (1929) which explores different styles of symphonic movements, its dark aura a residue of its origin as a ballet on a grotesque vampire theme, composed 1922-25 and named Grohg. The symphony has remained a highly controversial piece ever since.

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Sunday Times

"Wilson relishes the eerie orchestral effects of the central Dance of the Young Girl, but also revels in the Stravinskyan rhythmic audacity of the faster sections. He is an ideal champion for this latterly neglected music, especially the six aphoristic Statements (1932-35) and the cheery Outdoor Overture."

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Aaron Copland:

1. An Outdoor Overture

2-4. Symphony No. 1

5-10. Statements

11-13. Dance Symphony

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Modernist Copland comes up neat as a pin in this stunning new recording.



This is the third disc in a brilliant new series covering the music of American composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990). It is played by an English orchestra (based in Manchester), with an English conductor John Wilson (who has extensive experience in the film music world). That geography is not a problem is evident right away in Wilson's fresh and gutsy performance of An Outdoor Overture, a piece in the composer's Americana style.

Copland was hardly the outdoorsy type himself. A nerdy Jewish boy from New York, he studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger in the 1920s. His earliest compositions were European Modernist with an occasional jazz influence. His "vampire ballet" score Grohg remained unperformed until he mined it to create his Dance Symphony. Although harmonically more sophisticated than his later cowboy ballets, the music remains colourful and dramatic.

The Symphony No. 1 was Copland's reworking of an earlier Symphony for Organ and Orchestra. He rearranged it, thinking the solo organ part would mean there would be fewer performances, yet it has been heard most often in its original form. Wilson and the BBC Philharmonic make a compelling case for the purely orchestral version, showing a delightfully light touch in the Scherzo movement.
Statements (1932-35) is the difficult nut to crack here, but Copland is still himself even at his most modernistic. The movements have forbidding titles like Militant, Cryptic, and Dogmatic––yet the fifth movement, Jingo, is as wacky as a Warner Brothers cartoon.

Wilson's third Copland disc is a total success on all counts.