Copland: Billy the Kid Suite; Symphony No. 3

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Billy the Kid Suite; Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: New Zealand SO/James Judd
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559106
Is Copland’s Third the Great American Symphony he clearly meant it to be? It has some splendid music (including the whole of the scherzo: a dance sequence for Bacchic cowboys), but as a complete statement it’s a lot less convincing than the nearly contemporary Thirds of Roy Harris and William Schuman – or, for that matter, than Billy the Kid. This new version doesn’t pull its punches. If it hasn’t quite the intensity and brash brilliance of Leonard Bernstein, there’s still plenty of energy and forthright expressiveness – rather more than in the composer’s own recording in fact. Apart from the slightly gritty violin tone in the slow movement’s exposed high passages the technical standard of the playing is high too. But it’s the Billy the Kid Suite that makes the stronger impression. The pace is compelling through to the end, the flavouring is sharp and fresh, and it’s hard to keep the feet from tapping spontaneously in the Mexican Dance, even when Copland’s rhythms catch you out. This disc may not quell everyone’s doubts about Copland as symphonist, but as a composer of ballet music he’s completely vindicated. Stephen Johnson