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CD Review

Aaron Copland

Orchestral Works, Volume 1

  • Rodeo (Complete Ballet)
  • Dance Panels: A Ballet in Seven Sections
  • El Salón México
  • Danzón Cubano
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
Naxos American Classics 8.559758 70:11
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Also available on Blu-ray Audio NBD0037: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe - JPC

Conductor Leonard Slatkin's previous Copland efforts for EMI and RCA have all been mostly excellent, and some have been reviewed in these pages. The EMI recordings in particular were known for both their completeness and sonic quality. These new recordings from Naxos are difficult to peg; on the one hand, there are issues that cannot be ignored. On the other hand, the excellent quality of this disc is persuasive.

Firstly, Rodeo is much better on EMI, the rhythms here feel a touch more slack and even mannered. It's great to have the complete ballet in such excellent sound (Naxos seems to do very good work in the fabled acoustics of Orchestra Hall), but I really do prefer the earlier rendition for the higher energy level. Doráti's Decca reading with this very same orchestra is even better, as is Doráti's Copland on Mercury. Simply not competitive.

Dance Panels is considerably more valuable, and in such great sound there is very little need to complain. Despite his varied reputation as a conductor, Copland's own rendition has merit, but this trumps Columbia's iffy sonics and the London Symphony's somewhat tepid playing. Slatkin balances the work marvelously, and you can tell he clearly believes in this unusual and difficult piece. Set alongside a popular work like Rodeo, it makes an even stronger impression. The Detroit Symphony plays very well.

El Salón México sounds gorgeous here. The richness of the Detroit strings and Slatkin's storied ability in this music mesh well. Winds and brass also contribute a worthy sound, and this swift and dancing reading is a highlight of the program. Such a pity then that the Danzón Cubano falls curiously flat. I like it more than the dull Mata/Dallas Symphony reading that was set beside Slatkin's EMI Copland, but it holds not a candle to Tilson Thomas on Argo, despite lively tempos.

I'm torn on this disc as a whole; this is my hometown orchestra, playing in a world-renowned space, and in repertoire that they excel in. Nobody is more grateful to Naxos and the Detroit Symphony for their recent projects, but this inconsistent effort doesn't especially move me. This disc serves as a worthy beginning to this series, but I'm hoping that the next few installments are a little stronger.

Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman