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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Orchestral Works, Vol. 3
An Outdoor Overture (1938) [8:47]
Symphony No.1 for large orchestra (1926-28) [22:51]
Statements (1932-35) [19:33]
Dance Symphony for large orchestra (arranged Copland from the ballet Grohg, 1929) [16:59]
BBC Philharmonic/John Wilson
rec. 15-16 June 2016, MediaCityUK, Salford, England. DSD

Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from

Perhaps exposure to Copland’s music over more years than I care to think has made me less susceptible than Ian Lace – review – to finding it harsh, brittle and spiky. If IL ended by liking the album despite his reaction to the composer’s manner, I came to the same conclusion because of my liking for that manner. What we can easily agree on is the ‘verve and panache’ with which John Wilson and the BBC Phil perform all this music.

Certainly, there’s nothing spiky about the opening Outdoor Overture, a work which speaks of the wide-open spaces of the classic Western movies. It’s roughly contemporary with his ballet Billy the Kid and has much in common both with that work and his masterpiece, the Third and final Symphony (1944-46) and Wilson and the BBC Phil bring out its attraction.

Symphony No.1, too, has many moments of tenderness – try the contemplative opening of the first movement. Though the revised version omits the organ – the work was originally the Organ Symphony, as performed on Volume 2 of this series (CHSA5171 – Recording of the Month) – it retains many characteristics of the concerto form and that adds to the appeal. Even though the Age of Anxiety rears its head in the finale, there’s nothing too angular in this work, especially in this performance. The main rival, which also couples Symphony No.1 with the Dance Symphony and throws in the Short Symphony for good measure, comes from Marin Alsop on one of the many fine recordings, many of them of American music, which she has made for Naxos.

I share Dan Morgan’s enthusiasm for this recording – review – and it can be obtained for considerably less outlay than the new Chandos: as little as $5.83 if downloaded from It’s 16-bit only, as against the 24/96 and SACD Chandos, but it sounds very well. Subscribers to Naxos Music Library can stream both recordings there. Pay your money and take your pick, but bear in mind how much of her mentor Bernstein’s feeling for Copland’s music – and much else – Alsop has retained1.

Statements seems to me one of those works where unless the listener is concentrating, it’s easy to get lost and I must admit that I don’t find the short descriptions of each section helpful. Quiet City is another such work where I find it easy to lose the thread.

Forget the fact that the Dance Symphony was based on music from the ballet Grohg, something of which I think the notes in the booklet make a little too much, and enjoy it in a performance which doesn’t try too hard to bring out the grotesque. In Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger, it would have been almost impossible for Copland not to be influenced by Stravinsky and other contemporary composers. By comparison with The Rite of Spring and especially with Prokofiev’s Le Pas d’Acier (1926), the Dance Symphony is a cooing dove. There’s plenty of Americana, too, in the finale. And who better to bring that out than John Wilson, renowned for his proms performances of the musicals?2 If you want the music to sound a touch spikier, you may prefer Marin Alsop here.  Perhaps, as sometimes elsewhere, Wilson tempers the music a little too much.  Copland's own rougher-edged CBS/Sony recordings of these early works seem to have fallen by the way, though Statements remains available to stream or download in a non-Sony transfer.

Despite my slight preference for Marin Alsop’s rather less compromising manner in the symphonies and the availability of her Naxos recording at budget price, Copland lovers who buy the new Chandos recording should not regret their decision, especially if the availability of SACD or 24-bit sound appeals.

1 Bernstein’s CBS/Sony recording of the Organ Symphony (with E Power Biggs) and Symphony No.3, still one of the best recordings of that masterpiece, can be downloaded in lossless sound for 3.49 from Qobuz – a wonderful bargain, albeit that the booklet is a sketchy, all-purpose affair.

2 That’s Entertainment: music from the musicals (EMI/Warner 0288452 – Recording of the Month DL Roundup). Amazon UK currently offer the CD for 5.99 – less than their price for their low-bit-rate mp3 download or any other download I can find.

Brian Wilson  

Previous review: Ian Lace


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