Wilson and BBC Philharmonic perform Copland

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COMPOSERS: Copland
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Copland: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3
WORKS: An Outdoor Adventure; Symphony No. 1; Statements; Dance Symphony.
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/John Wilson
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5195 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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The montages covering the CD booklet feature the rockfaces of Mount Rushmore and Yosemite Valley. The images certainly suit An Outdoor Overture, the opening work in this third volume of Chandos’s orchestral Copland cycle. But what about the works written or launched during Copland’s Paris years studying with Nadia Boulanger in the 1920s? European grotesqueries crawl through the Dance Symphony, sliced from his unperformed ballet Grohg, where you constantly expect to turn a corner and collide with Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin or Max Schreck’s skeletal vampire from the film Nosferatu, the ballet’s original inspiration. Alongside splashes of imitation Stravinsky, the Symphony No. 1, Copland’s organ-free arrangement of his 1924 Symphony for organ and orchestra, features its own ghoulish thrills, though they sound crisper and tamer than in the original version.

John Wilson and the BBC Philharmonic make the most of this music’s European footprints, aided by the typically clean and expansive Chandos recording, with beefy climaxes and plenty of ballast from the lower registers. But they’re equally effective punching out the American jazz rhythms embedded alongside, chiseling out the strident modernist 1930s gestures of Statements, or polishing those leaping intervals and wide blue skies in the 1938 Outdoor Overture, the only piece here to fully exhibit the populist Americana mood of Copland’s most famous works.

All told, this ebulliently performed collection offers a fascinating portrait of a greatly skilled composer in transition. Don’t hesitate for a moment.

Geoff Brown