Copland: Rodeo – Four Dance Episodes; The Red Pony suite; Prairie Journal; Letter from Home

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Copland
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Copland
WORKS: Rodeo – Four Dance Episodes; The Red Pony suite; Prairie Journal; Letter from Home
PERFORMER: Buffalo PO/JoAnn Falletta
CATALOGUE NO: 8.55924
The partnership of the Buffalo Philharmonic and JoAnn Falletta has been increasingly impressive with each of their Naxos releases. This one’s a real treat. The most familiar piece, the suite from Copland’s 1942 cowboy ballet Rodeo, is played not just with precision but also with great freshness and spirit, and responsiveness to the moments of humour and introspection. It’s a pity that a slightly hollow quality in the recorded sound takes the edge off the performance in places. Among rival versions, Michael Tilson Thomas’s with the San Francisco Symphony is exemplary as long as you don’t object to the outbreak of whooping in the final ‘Hoe Down’ (I do, a bit, for repeated listening). And despite the scratchy 1968 sound, Copland’s own account with the LSO is full of life and energy, and of course uniquely authoritative. But this newcomer is in the same league as those two, and at Naxos’s usual bargain price.

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Moreover, Rodeo is complemented by a nicely unhackneyed selection of other works. Prairie Journal, written in 1937 as Music for Radio, starts with a swing before some well-judged changes of mood; the wartime Letter from Home, also written for a radio broadcast, is touchingly direct; and the Suite from the 1948 film of John Steinbeck’s novel The Red Pony has patches of first-rate Copland alongside episodes of deliberate banality. One or two of Falletta’s slow tempos in the Suite are slower than ideal, but these are also fine performances, well prepared and thoroughly enjoyable. Anthony Burton