Copland: Appalachian Spring (CD review)

Also, Clarinet Concerto; Quiet City; Three Latin-American Sketches. Laura Arden, clarinet; Paul Gambill, Nashville Chamber Orchestra. Naxos 8.559069.

It must be something in the air in Nashville. A month or so before reviewing this disc about a decade ago, I sat down and listened to one of the most lively and sparkling renditions of West Side Story I'd ever heard, done by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Then I listened to the present Nashville recording, one of the best compilations of music by Aaron Copland (1900-1990) around, this time done by the Nashville Chamber Orchestra. I don't know what's going on in Nashville, but I hope Naxos continues to record there for a while.

Maestro Paul Gambill's collection of Copland material with the Nashville ensemble focuses on the more contemplative side of the composer, although it opens with three short Latin-American Sketches (1972) that are quite colorful and done up in lively style. The main things, though, start with the Clarinet Concerto (1950), written expressly for Benny Goodman, who subsequently admitted he was afraid to play it, fearing he wasn't up to doing it justice; but he did play and record it, frequently. The piece takes up first in a surprisingly but beautifully melancholy, romantic mood and then lightens up, becomes playful and jazzy, and finally turns slightly Latin in mood. Gambill has the measure of it, and clarinetist Laura Arden is a charmer.

Copland wrote Quiet City (1940) for a play that never opened, but the composer salvaged a suite from it that in this recording sounds deeply felt, reflective of silent streets and hushed nighttimes in the city, apparently a period of day about which Copland had strong ties. Gambill and his players capture the mood nicely.

Paul Gambill
Then, the album ends with the composer's suite from the ballet Appalachian Spring (1944), where Copland's own notion of Americana meets the old Quaker tune "Simple Gifts." Interestingly, the booklet note says that it was Appalachian Spring "that made Copland the first American composer to win global recognition and popularity." I guess Gershwin didn't count, or Gottschalk or Joplin or Coleridge-Taylor or Chadwick or Sousa or MacDowell or Beach or Herbert or Ives or.... Whatever, Maestro Gambill handles the piece with an appropriate sweetness and repose.

The Nashville Chamber Orchestra plays all of this with faultless skill, if perhaps not doing it quite as deftly as Copland himself or Bernstein did in their Sony (Columbia) recordings or Tilson Thomas on RCA. Certainly, however, the Nashville ensemble plays with just as much sensitivity and enthusiasm, and that counts for a lot.

The recording, which Naxos released in 2002, sounds superbly balanced, the frequency range understandably not reaching down too far as these are essentially chamber pieces, after all. The clarity, left-to-right imaging, and overall tone of the sound, however, appear on a par with the best recordings the folks at Naxos have ever provided us. With over an hour of genuinely classic and classy music presented by a classy orchestra in classy sonics, the disc seems inspired.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa