Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Appalachian Spring: Suite (arr. 1945) [24:55]
El Salón México (1932-1936) [11.03]
Dance, from Music for the Theatre (1925) [3:32]
Danzón Cubano (arr. for orchestra 1944) [6:46]
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
rec. Manhattan Center, NYC, 9 October 1961 (Appalachian Spring), 20 May 1961 (El Salón México); 15 December 1958, St. George Hotel, NYC (Dance); Avery Fisher Hall, NYC, 6 February 1963 (Danzón Cubano)
Pdf liner-notes and inlay card included
Reviewed as 24/96 download
HIGH DEFINITION TAPE TRANSFERS HDDL444 [46:16]
The raison d’être of these high-res re-masters is to present vintage recordings in the best possible light. It’s a daunting task, given deteriorating master tapes, and the degrees of technical intervention can either be very subtle or frankly objectionable. I’ve heard many examples of both, and sadly the good ones are comparatively rare. HDTT tend to source the music from tapes, but they have also achieved remarkably good results with direct-from-LP transfers. Among the latter is Jean Martinon’s celebrated Decca recording of excerpts from Giselle, which sounds newly minted in its HDTT incarnation; indeed, I was so impressed with the results of this transfer that I made the disc one of my Recordings of the Year 2013 (review).
According to HDTT’s skimpy liner-notes their re-mastering of this Bernstein/Copland collection - which I first heard on a cheap CBS cassette - is sourced from Columbia four-track tapes. Thankfully the sonic limitations of the cassette medium masked the roughness that’s all too evident in subsequent CD reissues of these performances. However, what that convenient but long-defunct carrier could not do was hide the sheer exuberance of Lenny’s conducting or the New Yorkers’ often febrile playing. I’ve yet to hear a version of El Salón México – and I include Copland’s own - that’s as loose-limbed as this, or whose rhythms are so infectiously conveyed; ditto Bernstein’s Danzón Cubano, although there are times when I prefer the much plainer weave of his LAPO Appalachian Spring (DG).
So, is this re-master a step up from those less-than-ideal CD transfers? The ear-pricking start to Appalachian Spring suggests it is, although I’m soon reminded that even at this stage of his career Bernstein indulged in a touch of expressive overload. That said this remains a joyous, tender and wonderfully spontaneous reading of Copland’s iconic score. I can’t remember a more tactile sound than this – what ravishing woodwinds – and I was gripped by a genuine sense of delight and discovery. This is classic Americana in a classic performance, and I must commend HDTT’s Bob Witrak for revitalising this recording in ways I scarcely thought possible. There’s little of the shrillness one hears on the CDs – more of that fabled ‘analogue warmth’, perhaps - and the climaxes sound surprisingly clean; the bass is firm and weighty too.
What a promising start this is, proof that judicious re-mastering really can achieve the impossible. Indeed, thanks to HDTT I’ve fallen in love with this gentle, homely piece all over again. It’s not perfect – tape quality is variable and Lenny’s famous groans are easily heard – but the high-spirited, spine-tingling intro to El Salón México makes one forget such things. Goodness, the incomparable fluidity of this account is just astounding, and Copland’s sizzling orchestrations– not to mention that formidable bass drum – are as intoxicating as ever. Bravos all round.
The Danzón Cubano sounds rather more immediate than the other items here – it was recorded at Avery Fisher Hall – but the peacock colours and fine detail are as telling as before. It’s difficult to believe this recording is half-a-century old, especially when the wide dynamics of the dance’s second, contrasting section are so well managed. True, this isn’t modern ‘hi-fi spectacular’ - there are strange subsonic rumbles at one point and HDTT’s liner-notes are barely worthy of the name - yet such is the level of enjoyment here that I couldn’t care less. Even more enticing is the individual and frankly interesting sound of the NYP, a far cry from the smooth, homogenised beast we hear today.
Vintage recordings lovingly restored; pure gold.