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CD Review

Aaron Copland

  • Suite "Billy the Kid"
  • Statements for Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra/Aaron Copland
Everest SDBR-3015
Find it at Amazon

Aaron Copland made only a handful of truly excellent recordings, but each one is rightly regarded as a classic. When he was bad, he was pretty bad. His Columbia recordings with the London Symphony show very little except how he was appreciated across the pond, but his Everest efforts are an entirely different story. When Everest first came to CD, the Third Symphony and Billy the Kid were together; this issue – as with all issues from Countdown Media – replicates the original LP. This means the excellent recording of the Symphony is alone on SDBR-3018 (which I also reviewed), and this all-Copland program returns to circulation in the same manner.

This Billy the Kid is notable for being far more engaging than many of the composer's efforts. The parts that need to swing, do. Meanwhile, softer sections have the kind of luminosity that have made his scores so utterly endearing. Along with the radiant album on RCA that Copland made with the Boston Symphony, this stands as the best evidence of the man himself leading his ballet music. Like that RCA issue, there is little of the stiffness that hinders most of his recordings. As a direct result, the London Symphony plays with a kind of brash confidence that hints at the unusually inspired work on the podium. While lacking the kind of all out fire of Bernstein's recordings in New York, this is still remarkable considering the source, and essential for any Copland collection.

The Statements for Orchestra could not be any more different. The ringing brass sonorities and folksy undertones are typical of Copland, but the edgy and rugged modernism is not as well-known. This doesn't number among the composer's more popular efforts, but I disagree strongly with Amazon.com's Paul Cook, who contends that "Copland was never the experimenter". There are numerous examples of this discordant sound in many other works, and frankly there is more to the man than his evergreen ballets. The London Symphony sounds less polished here, but the music would have been very unfamiliar. Copland shows the same confidence and flexibility as in Billy the Kid, and the result is convincing, if not promising to become a fan-favorite. As with all of the titles in this series, both an iTunes download or Amazon CD will work here. This is a major statement by one of America's greats.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman

Trumpet