ALBUM TITLE: Copland
WORKS: An Outdoor Overture; Billy the Kid; El Salón México; Rodeo
PERFORMER: Colorado Symphony/Andrew Litton
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2164 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Andrew Litton is billed on this recording as its ‘conductor and honky-tonk pianist’ – not a common combination. But in Copland’s complete Rodeo ballet, furious honky-tonking kicks off the third section, ‘Ranch House Party’ and Litton ploughs into its clatter with unmistakeable glee, adding a welcome twist of character to performances which are in general neat and clean but rather too pale.
The recording acoustic doesn’t help. Romantic scores would swell beautifully in the generous resonance of Denver’s Boettcher Concert Hall, home of the Colorado Symphony (Litton has been its music director since 2013). But Copland’s populist scores of the 1930s and ’40s need athletic élan and a crisp attack, not lingering echoes and a weighty glow. The Billy the Kid ballet, heard complete, particularly needs extra punch and livelier phrasing to bring out the music’s own dance.
Vitality increases in El Sálon México, always a stronger score. A sexier one, too – at one point you can almost see the string players sashaying over the nightclub floor. The complete Rodeo, too, rolls along, through cowboy tunes, honky-tonk and hoedown; and Litton throughout never comes close to the oddly ponderous speeds sometimes found in Copland’s own recordings. Even so, a sense of disappointment remains. A fine American orchestra, a gifted American conductor, playing core Americana: a recipe for red-hot, individualistic music-making. Too much here is corporate grey and correct.