Three years ago, I reviewed Volume One of this series (Naxos 8.559758) by damning it with faint praise. I directed readers to Decca/London Ovation 430705-2 as the more desirable package for this orchestra in Copland. To my knowledge, that release did not receive much attention from the press, and for a few years Naxos focused on Slatkin 's career in Lyon instead of his work in Detroit. I loved Slatkin 's earlier Copland efforts on EMI, and I wrote that I hoped future installments of this Naxos series would be more interesting.
Thankfully, that 's exactly the case here. I happened to be in the audience for one of the performances of Hear Ye! Hear Ye!, and it 's just as enjoyable as I remember. I wrote: "…it's a marvelously crafted ballet score that is far less "populist" than the great composer's later works, although I disagree with Music Director Leonard Slatkin's claim that you can't hear echoes of those pieces ahead. In short, the ballet is a courtroom drama, and it's amazingly vivid. Think of it, older readers, as a Perry Mason ballet. It's got the tough and crusty feel of the 30's and 40's, mixed with some really engaging dance numbers and some rollicking musical "testimony". Along the way, there's actual gunshots, gavels banging, a twisted take on the National Anthem, and some genuine beauty, too. I hope that this shows up on Naxos with Slatkin's new Copland series, as the conductor notes it's only been performed a handful of times." Perhaps it 's not something I 'll play every day – or even every few months – but it strikes me as a legitimate addition to any Copland fan 's library. Also, there 's a controversial distortion of the National Anthem, which really isn't anything all that shocking. I imagine things were different in 1934. I honestly don't know why Naxos felt the need to individually track all 18 scenes, but it 's a thoughtful gesture for those who want to go back and sample parts of the work.
The Detroit Symphony has recorded Appalachian Spring before, albeit in the 1945 Suite. That performance was acclaimed by Amazon.com 's David Hurwitz (yes, he of ClassicsToday fame), as "the most beautiful on disc". Slatkin also has a stellar rendition on EMI with his erstwhile EMI forces, and that 's just two artists! Truth be told, every lover of musical Americana has a favorite version of this work, and this present one is excellent without being irreplaceable. Still, it makes a logical coupling, and at 72 minutes, the disc is more generous than many other earlier volumes in the American Classics series. As for the orchestra itself, the playing is both confident and (in the former work especially) brash and exciting. Appalachian Spring has admirable clarity but also lacks that last element of freshness and discovery. I 'm more than a little convinced that the music itself is to blame. At 37-plus minutes, it 's over 14 minutes longer than Dorati 's reading of the Suite. Not that time itself is a factor alone, but those extra 14 minutes aren't the most interesting from a musical point of view. Still, we must recognize that having the complete ballet in vintage Orchestra Hall sound (the Naxos engineers do very well) is a luxury in itself. Coupled with a genuine rarity, even for Copland specialists, this disc earns an easy recommendation, and is noticeably more interesting than Volume One.
Copyright © 2016, Brian Wigman