ALBUM TITLE: Copland
WORKS: Orchestral works, Vol. 2: Symphony for Organ and Orchestra; Symphonic Ode; Symphony No. 2 (Short Symphony); Orchestral Variations
PERFORMER: Jonathan Scott (organ); BBC Philharmonic/John Wilson
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5171 (hybrid CD/SACD)
John Wilson’s first Copland disc with the BBC Philharmonic (reviewed in March) was of popular ballet scores, but this one explores the more serious side of the composer’s output. The 1924 Organ Symphony was an early work, and indeed the first orchestral score of his own that Copland heard; its central Scherzo is in the lithe rhythmic manner that he’d already identified as characteristically American. The Symphonic Ode of the late 1920s begins and ends in the grand rhetorical vein that he wryly described as his ‘laying-down-the-law’ style. The 1957 Orchestral Variations are an arrangement of the astringently modernist Piano Variations of 1930. Best of all is the Short Symphony of 1931-33, probably the most frequently cancelled orchestral work of the 20th century because of its tricky changes of metre, but a miracle of limpid logic and buoyant energy.
The performances are outstanding. The Organ Symphony was recorded in the generous acoustic of the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, with Jonathan Scott matching the orchestra’s incisive attacks and subtle woodwind colours successfully on the hall’s Marcussen instrument. The BBC’s Salford studio provides a closer but well-judged perspective on the other items. Wilson makes the most of the quicker, scherzo-like episodes of the Ode, giving its structure a more balanced feeling than usual. And this account of the Short Symphony, with its limber rhythms and shining climax, rivals those of Michael Tilson Thomas (RCA) and Marin Alsop (Naxos). Unmissable.