Copland: 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson; Old American Songs; Four Piano Blues

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Black Box Voices
WORKS: 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson; Old American Songs; Four Piano Blues
PERFORMER: Susan Chilcott (soprano) Iain Burnside (piano)
Although Copland was never a prolific composer for the voice, his 1950 cycle of Emily Dickinson settings is one of the masterpieces of 20th-century song. In this performance, originally recorded for the BBC Radio 3 series Voices, Susan Chilcott displays not only a voice of exceptional quality but also a sympathetic understanding of the poems, allied to scrupulous care for dynamics and (a few truncated last notes apart) note-values. Some Americanised pronunciations, though never obtrusive, are perhaps unnecessary. But they do pay dividends in the Old American Songs, sung with tenderness and glee in equal measure. Two Impressionistic early songs and the ‘modernist’ but still entirely characteristic 1927 ‘Poet’s Song’ round out the portrait of the composer, though they don’t quite exhaust the Copland songbook. Instead, Iain Burnside, a supportive partner in the crystalline textures of the Dickinson songs, adds an idiomatic performance of the Four Piano Blues. The recording is generally clear and pleasant, but slight shifts of perspective occasionally obscure right-hand detail.


Copland’s own stereo recording of the Dickinson songs, on Sony, has obvious authority, but the soprano Adele Addison doesn’t always sound comfortable. With the Decca version by Barbara Bonney and André Previn difficult to find, the chief competition comes from Roberta Alexander and Roger Vignoles on Etcetera. Alexander’s richer lower register and her native American accent bring clear benefits, and her all-Copland disc includes more of the early songs. But, for me, the sheer beauty and ease of Chilcottsinging just win this new issue the top recommendation. Anthony Burton