Copland: Piano Concerto; Orchestral Variations; Short Symphony; Symphonic Ode

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Piano Concerto; Orchestral Variations; Short Symphony; Symphonic Ode
PERFORMER: Garrick Ohlsson (piano); San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68541 2
During the years that span his jazzy Piano Concerto of 1926 and the Short Symphony of 1934, Copland was one of many Paris-trained composers who were self-consciously following the ‘modernist’ trail blazed in that city by Stravinsky (and others) before the First World War. Michael Tilson Thomas’s second disc with his new orchestra provides an enterprising collection of the brash, confident works of this period, also including the much later (1957) orchestral version of the severe, angular Piano Variations of 1930. This is a score which does still sound impressively ‘modernist’; the imposing rhetoric of the Symphonic Ode of 1929 tries too hard to impress by sheer weight of sound, while the rarely-heard Piano Concerto receives a persuasive and lively performance yet lacks the thematic brilliance of Gershwin’s essays in this form. Best of all is the Short Symphony, a masterpiece whose fearsome rhythmic irregularities should be attempted only by the very brave. Needless to say, ‘MTT’ and orchestra are on home ground here (as throughout the disc), though Leonard Slatkin’s St Louis accounts of this and the Orchestral Variations are, if anything, even more virtuosic. In fact, it’s a pity RCA duplicated this repertoire in a single year (and with some repetition in the booklet notes, also). Slatkin’s couplings (the Dance Symphony and Organ Symphony) are from the same period and equally interesting. Stephen Maddock