ALBUM TITLE: Copland
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Three Latin American Sketches
PERFORMER: Detroit Symphony Orchestra/ Leonard Slatkin
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559844
‘Sweetie,’ Leonard Bernstein wrote to Copland in 1947 after performing his Third Symphony in Prague, ‘the end is a sin. You’ve got to change.’ In the event, Bernstein changed it for him by lopping off eight bars from the coda to what turned out to be Copland’s largest symphonic work. Initially Copland bridled, but the Bernstein cut became authorised when the Symphony was published later that year.
Leonard Slatkin, however, is a conductor who has often revisited Copland’s first thoughts, and the missing bars pop up on this excellent CD, serving as an extra victory lap in the finale’s grandiose celebration of America’s wartime victory. As such they don’t significantly change anything in a work first claimed as a masterpiece, but not one, maybe, that is ageing very well. What counts for more in this crisp and sensible performance is Slatkin’s concern with the Symphony’s gentler corners. Among the machismo of brass and timpani and the pompous tread of the incorporated Fanfare of a Common Man, I certainly fell with renewed gratitude on the reflective gestures from delicate woodwinds, the harps, the celesta, and the hushed strings. Slatkin’s tight control of textures and the finesse of his Detroit musicians also help illuminate the niceties of a work more complex and quicksilver in technique than its monumental poses suggest.
Following all that, the later Three Latin American Sketches offer the perfect tonic: light-fingered exuberance, exotic colouring, brevity. Propelled along with the orchestra’s chiselled panache and rhythmic snap, Slatkin’s account is absolutely delicious.