Leonard Slatkin conducts Copland’s Appalachian Spring

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COMPOSERS: Aaron Copland
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Copland
WORKS: Appalachian Spring – complete ballet; Hear Ye! Hear Ye!
PERFORMER: Detroit Symphony Orchestra/ Leonard Slatkin
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559806  

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Aaron Copland wrote Hear Ye! Hear Ye! in 1934 for the Chicago-based Ruth Page Ballets company, but then suppressed it for many years. It’s a send-up of the American justice system, a courtroom re-enactment of three contradictory eye-witness accounts of a night-club murder. Copland gave his score some of the anarchic spirit of Les Six, dropping in distorted quotations of the American national anthem and the Mendelssohn ‘Wedding March’ alongside scenes of hectic action and jazzy dance numbers. 

Leonard Slatkin and his Detroit Symphony Orchestra negotiate all this brightly and efficiently, but in a big acoustic they can’t hope to sound like a snappy pit band. It’s worth seeking out Oliver Knussen’s premiere recording with the London Sinfonietta, made in 1993 for Argo, which is more compact in sound and lighter on its feet.

As he did for EMI (now Warner Classics) in 1985, Slatkin plays the much-loved Appalachian Spring of 1944-45 not in its usual compressed form but in an orchestral version of the complete score, made in 1954 for a special ballet performance. Although the booklet cover says ‘Complete Ballet’, the note inside describes only the standard suite, which is unhelpful, to say the least.

The full-length version includes some darkly dramatic music quite unlike the rest of the score – which perhaps leads Slatkin to give the whole piece an unusually lugubrious tone. As I suggested in our Building a Library feature last month, the not quite so complete version by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony (RCA) is a preferable, well-rounded alternative. 

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Anthony Burton