John Wilson conducts Copland Orchestral Works 3 – Symphonies [BBC Philharmonic; Chandos]

4 of 5 stars

An Outdoor Overture
Symphony No.1
Dance Symphony

BBC Philharmonic
John Wilson

Recorded June 2016 in MediaCityUK, Salford, Manchester

Reviewed by: David Gutman

Reviewed: February 2018
Duration: 68 minutes



John Wilson would seem embarked on a Copland series of remarkable thoroughness. Having already given us a first-rate Organ Symphony (1924) he returns now to the re-jigged, purely orchestral version of the score dubbed Symphony No.1 which Copland assumed would have more appeal to concert promoters. The composer was wrong about that and I’m not sure his British advocate has given the re-think quite enough character and space, scrupulous as it is. Isn’t the first movement a little too business-like? Marin Alsop is more than a notch slower in her slightly woozy 2007 sessions for Naxos. Either way one misses the heftier sonority of the organ whether in Wilson’s own rendition with Jonathan Scott or the comparably stunning account from Paul Jacobs with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony on SFS Media.

Wilson eases us into the Symphony with a rarity in Copland’s more accessible vein. An Outdoor Overture was composed in 1938 expressly for children. This too sounds fine as long as you don’t put it alongside Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic in a cough-strewn but snappier live relay once issued on the orchestra’s own label. Statements is placed third, six mostly but not exclusively ‘modernist’ utterances composed between 1932 and 1935. Rather than running them together in an unbroken sequence, each aphoristic component is separately tracked and flanked by silence. ‘Jingo’ (track 9), possibly the most accessible, is superbly pointed by the BBC Philharmonic, ‘Prophetic’ juxtaposes threat and uplift in an unexpectedly potent mix.

Equally successful is the performance of Dance Symphony (1929) derived from music from the unstaged ballet Grohg. Enthusiasts may need the complete work as disinterred by Oliver Knussen and the Cleveland Orchestra in 1993 (Argo/Decca) and there is another elusive live relay of Dance Symphony alone from Bernstein. Wilson’s unambiguously committed version nevertheless sits at or near the top of the list. There’s nothing remotely bland or generalised about the response of the BBC Philharmonic here.

Throughout, Chandos’s recorded sound, SACD-encoded, is opulent and relaxed, possibly not quite as incisive as the music demands yet never admitting too much resonance. The booklet contains full notes and a generous quota of photographs. Any qualms are minor. Rather than labelling the disc as “Copland Orchestral Works 3” the spine prefers the potentially confusing “Copland: Symphonies, Vol.2”. And I don’t understand why Mervyn Cooke’s essay discusses the scores in a sequence neither chronological nor reflective of the order in which they appear on the disc.

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