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CD Review

Aaron Copland

Naxos 8.559844
  • Symphony #3 (1946)
  • Three Latin American Sketches
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
Naxos American Classics 8.559844
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As critical as I am of Leonard Slatkin and my hometown orchestra in concert, they remain very accomplished on disc, and their partnership with Naxos strikes me as mostly successful. As on RCA, Slatkin has largely stuck to American and Russian music in Detroit, and his mastery of both isn't really in question, even from me. What we have here is a beautiful reading of the popular Symphony #3, and an unusual filler in the form of the Latin American Sketches. This is wonderful stuff.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Slatkin album without a twist, and the gimmick this time is that this recording preserves a few bars that the conductor later removed. Both of Copland's recordings of the work honor these cuts, and I'm not enough of an expert to say whether it was a good idea or not. Slatkin is rather noncommittal himself, pointing out in his notes only that the symphony is great any way you choose to play it. Thanks for the help, Leonard. Through my subscription at ClassicsToday, I could hear just the cuts, and they really do sound like the composer was right to do without them. They are noisy, but not terribly special. I doubt that anyone will really notice. Naxos itself seems to think this detail to be a trivial one, since they don't bother mentioning any of this until you get to the conductor's note. Long story short, it shouldn't make or break your purchase.

Frankly, even if those cuts were bloody awful, I'd still recommend this highly engaged, "lived-in" performance of the symphony, because it preserves all Slatkin's musical intelligence with a real sense of purpose. Those overenthusiastic brass players I'm always moaning about? Yeah, they're here, but they have the kind of brash swagger without crudeness that characterizes the orchestra's finest performances. And it goes without saying that the strings and winds (recorded in 2013 and 2015) sound fabulous. In fact, of the three discs in this series so far, this stands out as the best played and excitable. This is an important album, one which adds to a longstanding legacy in this music from this orchestra. The Latin American Sketches are just as well done, and prove to be a fine bonus.

If you already have the conductor's previous recording of this symphony on RCA, you may not need this disc. As he's aged, Slatkin has become less exciting overall. But, when he's at his best, he remains an expert Copland conductor. Beautiful live sound production from storied Orchestra Hall caps as fine a Copland disc as I've heard in some time. Cuts or no cuts, this is a winner.

Copyright © 2017, Brian Wigman