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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990) Appalachian Spring (original version for 13 instruments), Three Latin Sketches: Estribillo; Paisaje Mexicano; Danza de Jalisco., Music for the Theatre: Prologue; Dance; Interlude; Burlesque; Epilogue. Quiet City, Old American Songs*:-  † Dawn Upshaw * Thomas Hampson, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by Hugh Wolff Ultima 2 CDs TELDEC 3984-28169-2 [134:58] Texts not supplied



Old American Songs*
First Set
The Boatman's Song (Minstrel Song)
The Dodger (Campaign Song)
Long Time Ago (Ballad)
Simple Gifts (Shaker Song)
I Bought Me A Cat (Children's Song)

Second Set
The Little Horses (Lullaby)
Zion's Walls (Revivalist Song)
The Golden Willow Tree (Anglo-American Ballad)
At The River (Hymn Tune)
Ching-A-Ring Chaw (Minstrel Song)

Down A County Lane Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson†:-
Nature, The Gentlest Mother
There Came A Wind Like A Bugle
The World Feels Dusty
Heart, We Will Forget Him!
Dear March, Come In!
Sleep is Supposed To Be
Going to Heaven!
The Chariot

Billy the Kid - Waltz; Prairie Night; Celebration Dance.

† Dawn Upshaw * Thomas Hampson

Teldec's budget Ultima series is one of the most adventurous of its kind on the market with an unusual and eminently collectable repertoire. This CD is a notable example and it will appeal to all admirers of Aaron Copland's music.

CD1 commences with a fine performance of the original version for 13 instruments of Appalachian Spring. The reduced ensemble playing has a genuine, gutsy feel, as though you are hearing the music played at the 'grass roots' in some middle-America locale. The quieter movements are very atmospheric and the dances have plenty of vitality and simple sincerity as in the well-known 'Theme and variations (The Gift to be Simple)' which is most affecting. Of course, for the full emotional impact of the broad statement of the 'big' tune you really need the larger forces of a symphony orchestra but its quieter reaches, here, have a touching quiet dignity.

Music for the Theatre was premiered in November 1925 and it is very much of its period. It begins with imposing brass fanfares before the mood solemnises into the sort of warm homely nostalgic figurations that have become indelibly associated with Copland and 'Middle' America. The jazzy, high-spirited dance movement has a great sense of fun and mischief; this is the music of Broadway musical comedy. 'Interlude' is music of poignancy and pathos. 'Burlesque' is just as the name suggests cheeky and great fun - the sort of music one would expect to underscore a silent slapstick comedy. 'Epilogue' with important parts for solo piano and violin returns us to a mood of melancholy and poignancy.

Great vitality and vibrant colour suffuse the Three Latin American Sketches. They all carry the unmistakable Copland finger prints especially those inimitable jerky, spiky rhythms.

Quiet City is a concert piece for trumpet and cor anglais written in 1940. It is based on thematic materials from Copland's never-published 1939 incidental music for Irwin Shaw's play of the same name. This is one of Copland's autumnal, nostalgic portraits. It is about the night thoughts of many different kinds of people in a great city. It focuses on a lonely and troubled Jewish boy who gives voice to his isolation on his jazz trumpet - played here with sensitivity and eloquence by Gary Bordner.

CD2 opens with the orchestral version of Copland's two sets of Old American Songs (1950 and 1952). What a wonderful baritone Thomas Hampson is! His attractively timbered voice, authoritative, tender, comic by turn, distinguishes these lovely melodic songs. His diction is immaculate and he has an exquisite feel for the songs' lines and he has exceptional expressive qualities. He sends out a loud clarion call announcing the boatman as he sails down the Ohio River before he merrily sings about his merry exploits in 'The Boatman's Dance.' 'The Dodger' is another merry, sardonic song about the confidence tricks of the vote-collecting 'The Dodger.' But he suggests that we are all, in our way, 'dodging through the world.' 'Long Time Ago' is a lovely sentimental number with Hampson accenting the words beguilingly listen, for instance, to how he sings "..round the lake where droops the willow…" with its falling phrase on the word "droops". Copland's nature painting in this number is also beautifully conceived. 'Simple Gifts' is of course the Shaker Song that Copland uses in Appalachian Spring and Hampson sings it authoritatively and very movingly. The final song in the first set is 'I Bought Me a Cat' which will delight all young children with Hampson enjoying himself imitating the farmyard animals and singing in a quaint rustic dialect.

The second set of Old American Songs begins with a lullaby The Little Horses. It is predominantly quiet and serene with Hampson tender but then more enthusiastic as the middle section of the song quickens tempo to suggest the trotting of the horses - an enchanting little number. The Revivalist Song Zion's Walls is a lively and catchy tune with Hampson in stalwart preaching mode. The Golden Willow Tree is the most extensive number of the whole series and is a narrative song of maritime exploits, a rather tall tale. A lively number with Hampson in heroic mode and Copland supporting him with an energetic and spiky rhythmed accompaniment. Copland gives the well-known Hymn Tune At the River, a lovely setting and it is most movingly performed. The work ends as it began with another exuberant minstrel song Ching-A-Ring Chaw.

Copland had originally set twelve of Emily Dickinson's poems to music, in 1950, for voice and piano before choosing eight to arrange for voice and chamber orchestra in 1970. As Vivian Perlis comments: "Copland was touched by Dickinson's reclusive life leading him to create songs with a depth of tenderness and lyricism, most evident in 'The World Feels Dusty' and 'Heart, We Will Forget Him'…The songs present special challenges for the performers. Not being in an accessible style, the songs received a moderate reception but they have since been recognised as being among Copland's greatest achievements."

The opening song 'Nature, the Gentlest Mother' begins with woodwind birdsong dialogue before the soprano enters. The caressing line of her song is of infinite tenderness and caring. Yet there is a hint of the darker side of nature too in a brief dissonant clamouring section. Dawn Upshaw is a distinguished lyric soprano with fine dramatic expressive facility. Her tender singing of this song contrasts bleakly with the more blustery stentorian tones of 'There Came A Wind Like A Bugle' as nature shows a more violent face and Copland responds accordingly. The melancholy 'The World Feels Dusty (when we stop to die)' is a touching, drooping elegy. 'Heart, We Will Forget Him' has one of Copland's loveliest long-spanned melodies and Upshaw sings with great romantic intensity and we are left in no doubt that she will always remember... 'Dear March, Come In' is an ecstatic welcome to spring personalised to include all nature's joyful awakening. 'Sleep is supposed to be' is a more difficult, craggy number introspective and symbolic. 'Going to Heaven' is pure delight an innocent spiritual kind of song, the singer wondering what heaven is like and pleading - "if you should get there first, save a little place fore me…" Finally, 'The Chariot' in dotted rhythms is another appealing halting song and the one which first captivated Copland to Dickinson's verses. I would just raise one jarring note here: Ms Upshaw's diction in her top register is non too clear and there are no texts given with these songs (the downside of any budget reissue is the often skimpy booklet notes). This omission seriously detracts from maximum enjoyment of these songs.

Down A Country Lane is another one of Copland's tender nostalgic portraits of rural America and one of the composer's finest, most appealing miniatures.

The selection from Billy The Kid comprises a slow Waltz with a slightly faster middle section. There is definite rustic quality about it suggesting not too competent players in a rural locale but nonetheless an atmosphere of disarming sincerity. 'Prairie night' is a serene nocturne - until, near the end the peace is interrupted by gun shots. There is an important role for trumpet in this movement suggesting the wide vistas of the priaries. 'Celebration Dance' is a lively comic closing episode.

The playing of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is first class throughout. I recommend this album most warmly.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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