Copland Symphonies/Marin Alsop

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Copland
Symphony No.1
Short Symphony (No.2)
Dance Symphony

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop

Recorded 30-31 March 2007 in The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole


Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins

Reviewed: January 2009
CD No: NAXOS 8.559359
Duration: 59 minutes

 

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Following James Judd’s New Zealand recording of the Third Symphony (Naxos 8.559106), Marin Alsop turns her attention to Aaron Copland’s previous symphonic works. Despite the popularity of the Third, the earlier symphonies have been rather neglected and they make a welcome alternative to Copland’s more frequently heard scores.

The First Symphony (1928) is in fact a re-orchestration of Copland’s Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, composed during 1923, with the organ part transferred to woodwind (in quieter passages) and brass (in louder ones). The questing, atmospheric and melancholy ‘Prelude’ gives little clue as to the composer’s identity, sounding more like the work of a European composer such as Honegger. By contrast, the fresh-faced, perky opening of ‘Scherzo’ has an outdoors American feel, although it is soon displaced by a jaunty theme for brass and percussion and then a trio which combines a nocturnal mood with a sense of fantasy. ‘Finale’, marked Lento, commences with a searching melody for strings, notable for its wide intervals, and after recalling passages from the first movement, ends with a series of stabbing timpani-led declamations.

By the time of Short Symphony (1933), Copland had largely formulated the idiom that would prove popular in the ballets and film music of the 1940s. The symphony’s first movement (marked crotchet = 144) has a rhythmic buoyancy that is highly engaging, as is the pastoral tenderness of the central slow movement (minim = 44). The third movement (also crotchet = 144) has much of the rhythmic character of the first, although with a greater degree of thrust and energy.

Dance Symphony (1929) has its origins in the early ballet Grohg (1922-25), much of which Copland composed while studying in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. The work’s three movements have passages that suggest the influence of Debussy, Bartók and Stravinsky, although Copland’s own personality is ever-present, notably in the catchy theme for clarinet and harp that enlivens the first movement.

With the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Alsop conducts dynamic and atmospheric performances, with many fine solos. The recording, made in a warmly resonant acoustic, is particularly impressive, combining impact, weight and clarity. Recommended with enthusiasm.

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