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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Music for the Theatre (1925) [22:25]
Quiet City (1940) [10:02]
Music for Movies (1942) [17:57]
Clarinet Concerto (1948) [16:36]
William Blount (clarinet)
Orchestra of St. Luke's/Dennis Russell Davies
rec. 1988
NIMBUS NI 2522 [66:56]

Experience Classicsonline

This is, in race horse parlance, another Nimbus ex MusicMasters production. The recordings are now, amazingly, over twenty years old but they certainly bear the new and somewhat austere, though evocative, livery well.

Music for the Theatre dates from 1925 and owed its genesis to a Koussevitzky commission. The composer took incidental music for a projected play and utilised it for the new work. There are five movements with the Prologue, and its brisk quasi-reveille calls, setting the scene with its quiescent material that leads inexorably to a jazzy and luminous coda. The muted trumpet and clarinet that haunt the Dance suggest a post-Ragtime sensibility and Hot Dance music rather than the Jazz that Copland suggested. It certainly has more of a tightly rhythmic New York feel than the more curvaceous insinuation of a Chicago beat. In the warmly lyric Interlude the cor anglais is the star and this ushers in a cheeky Burlesque where the trombone's cocky call over a walking bass adds greatly to the fun. The finale revisits the first and third movements and adds some restful stasis to end a happy, snappy work, tautly and sympathetically played by the forces of the Orchestra of St. Luke's under Dennis Russell Davies.

Quiet City is naturally better known but again trumpet and cor anglais are to the fore. Stephen Taylor is the cor anglais player here and I assume he was in Music for the Theatre as well. He and trumpeter Chris Gekker play with fine tone and measured cantilena. The strings turn lush when needed; no astringent aspersions are cast. Music for Movies dates from 1942 - the quartet of compositions is presented chronologically. This is a vital, energising piece of work, one of his breeziest and zestiest. It flies kites for serious composers and film music, whilst ensuring that colour, rhythmic flair, localised characterisation, and convincing orchestration are all surely realised. To end we have the Clarinet Concerto. It's not such an odd bedfellow as it may seem, especially when the playing is so consonant and William Blount so highly effective a soloist.

Of course you will have your own Numero Uno to play against each of these four recordings. Probably you'd go for Bernstein, Levi or Litton in Music for Theatre, or Copland himself (or Marriner - excellent) in Quiet City. The composer or Slatkin are probably best for Music for Movies and you have a whole Appalachia full of choices with the Concerto, according to how jazzy or straight you want it - Goodman, Meyer, Stoltzman - best with Tilson Thomas on the rostrum - or maybe Drucker - and there are plenty more.

As a single disc however this one, excellently recorded, finely played, and well annotated (by Vivian Perlis) is a winner.

Jonathan Woolf 

see also review by Dan Morgan and Bob Briggs


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