Throughout his long and distinguished career, especially as the Conductor Laureate of the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein had at least two composers in whose music he was a certified master at. One was Gustav Mahler. And the other was his good friend Aaron Copland.
Copland is pretty much the dean of American classical music, with his stirring orchestral works combining ethnic music forms, both rural and urban, and sometimes exotic, with large-scale orchestrations; and frequently his works are about the very character of this nation which show unmistakable pride in it but not the kind of my-country-right-or-wrong pride that can turn the outside world against us. It is certainly the case here on this recording, made during Bernstein's final series of concerts with the New York Philharmonic in October 1989, which spotlight four examples of prime Copland.
There is "El Salon Mexico", the composer's tribute to the land on the other side of the Rio Grande, inspired by a Mexico City dance hall of the same name where he encountered plenty of Mexican mariachi madness when he went there in 1934. Those Mexican elements, both Indian and Hispanic, found their way into this piece, making it among the most popular in his canon. In a more modern vein is "Connotations", a work in Copland's own form of the 12-tone style that he wrote for Bernstein and the N.Y.P.O. for the opening of Avery Fisher Hall in September 1962. There is also the jazz element to be found in the five-part "Music For The Theatre", which Copland composed in 1925.
But the real delight of this recording is of the composer's 1947 Clarinet Concerto, which incorporates a small orchestra of strings plus harp and piano along with the clarinet soloist. Composed by Copland while visiting Brazil, the work incorporates jazz elements and music from Brazil in its roughly eighteen-minute running time, and it has a fair amount of similarities to both Mozart's beloved Clarinet Concerto and Igor Stravinsky's 1945 "Ebony Concerto" (both Copland's and Stravinsky's works were composed for the legendary clarinetist Benny Goodman). Stanley Drucker, the New York Philharmonic's principal clarinetist, is the soloist here, and he does a stellar interpretation with Lenny and company helping out.
The high quality of both the recording set-up and the performances make this a must for any American classical music aficionado to have in their collection. Seek it out.