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CD Review

Aaron Copland


  • Appalachian Spring Suite (Original for 13 instruments)
  • An Outdoor Overture
  • Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson (Orch. Copland)
Marni Nixon, soprano
Pacific Symphony Orchestra/Keith Clark
Reference Recordings RR-22CD
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Even if this were not such a fine release, I would still recommend it on the grounds that the programming is so intelligent and worthwhile. The year was 1986, years before the masterful series of discs with Minnesota, Kansas City, and Utah. It still sounds amazing. Consider the awful early digital horror shows being tossed out by Karajan and Deutsche Grammophon. Also consider that seemingly everything released in the late 80's was a standard repertoire disc, and this becomes even more important. Even today, over 27 years later, few companies program as well or inventively as Reference Recordings. It's no wonder this disc is still in print and well-respected. It's a beauty.

Copland's Outdoor Overture is not going to be mistaken for a masterpiece, but it's a fun, typically accessible concert work that is played especially well by the Pacific Symphony forces under Clark. It's not an easy piece to find, so it makes a pleasing and logical opener. The original scoring of the far more famous Appalachian Spring Suite is a lovely surprise. It follows the bright, bold tones of the overture in a natural, calming way. Programming aesthetics aside, the playing is incredible. A measured and sober introduction proves to be exceptionally well balanced and full-bodied despite the sparser scoring of the chamber setting. And so it goes. We've heard the work in so many ways, so many settings, that getting "back to basics" proves to be inspired. Even if you think you need Bernstein or Copland (with a glowing Boston Symphony) in this work, this may change your mind.

I must confess that while I love Dickinson as a poet, I often find Copland's song settings to be less than enjoyable. But this is really, really good. Marni Nixon infuses the text with everything she has, and the sonic quality boosts everything greatly. Again, Clark and his players give their all in this unexpected closer. Frankly, the contrasts on this disc are so well thought out and executed that I'm inclined to think that anyone who cares about American music should make this a mandatory purchase. Reference Recordings has done some incredible things recently, but don't forget what they did so long ago. This release is a winner, plain and simple.

Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman