Copland/Barber: Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson; Quiet City

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COMPOSERS: Copland/Barber
WORKS: Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson; Quiet City
PERFORMER: Barbara Hendricks (soprano)LSO/Michael Tilson Thomas
Aaron Copland wrote surprisingly few songs; and the young Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the premiere of his orchestrated Emily Dickinson settings on the composer’s seventieth birthday in 1970. He returns to them now, with soprano Barbara Hendricks: both musicians understand Copland as well as he, in turn, understood and partnered the strange and plain-speaking compassion of Dickinson’s poetry.


The woodwind soloists of the London Symphony Orchestra tangle in the heat-haze of Copland’s string writing in ‘Nature, the gentlest mother’, and Hendricks’s soprano competes feistily with her orchestral counterparts in the gusty ‘There came a wind like a bugle’.

Two of Samuel Barber’s four Op. 13 songs sound, by contrast, felicitous and luxuriant. Hendricks reveals the radiant ecstasy of James Agee’s ‘Sure on this shining night’; and the bloom of her voice brings sensuous nostalgia to Barber’s great setting of that poet’s Knoxville.


In between these fine song performances, the LSO brings sophistication and flair to Copland’s Quiet City and Barber’s Adagio for Strings in an unusually satisfying programme. Its enjoyment is enhanced by Michael Tilson Thomas’s own apposite and anecdotal programme notes. Hilary Finch