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CD Review

Aaron Copland

  • An Outdoor Overture (1938)
  • Billy the Kid, Ballet in One Act (1938)
  • El Salón México (1933-36)
  • Rodeo, Ballet in One Act (1942)
Colorado Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton
BIS SACD 2164 77:26
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Both Michael Tilson Thomas, with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and Leonard Slatkin, with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, produced excellent accounts of the two ballets offered here but, good as they were, they didn't quite rise to the level of these utterly spirited accounts from Andrew Litton and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Aaron Copland's own recordings, with the London Symphony Orchestra, of the suites (which contain most of the music from the ballets) aren't quite as kinetic and colorful as these new performances either. What Litton has done here, at least for me, is create the new touchstone recordings for the ballets. And the performances of An Outdoor Overture and El Salón México are just as convincing. Do American conductors handle Copland's rather unique brand of cowboy music better than foreign maestros? It would seem so, though there is a highly praised CD of Copland that I haven't heard, the first in a series, by British conductor John Wilson on Chandos that has received high praise.

Andrew Litton draws excellent performances from the orchestra in every work on this well filled disc. Try the Gun Battle from Billy The Kid and notice the crisp style of the attacks and motoric menace from the percussion and brass; and the ensuing Celebration has such a subtle, jaunty character to its chipper but sassy melody which is so well played by the woodwinds. Despite the mostly light moods in Billy Litton draws out a convincing sense of tragedy and angst in the opening and closing Open Prairie segments. Rodeo also has a bit more gravitas here, more of an epic sense than what one often encounters in other performances. Buckaroo Holiday has an infectious joy, especially in its middle section, but also carries an imposing bigness. While it's often easy to get tripped up with a certain inelastic treatment of rhythms, especially in the phasing of the alternate theme in Buckaroo Holiday, with its long pauses and oafish character, Litton and his players never come across as stiff or unnatural. Indeed, and Hoe-Down never sounded more colorful or more fun than here. For once, the music doesn't bog down for even a moment, but remains light, with the orchestra playing with such drive and subtlety.

As mentioned above the performances of the other works are also excellent: I can't imagine a better account of An Outdoor Overture, and Litton managed to make me like El Salón México, a work I had previously found a little iffy. BIS provides very vivid and well balanced sound on this SACD. If you like these popular Copland works, then I can only urge you to acquire this superb recording. Highest recommendations!

Copyright © 2016, Robert Cummings