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Loving, dedicated performances of Copland's neglected worksDec 6 2014
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For the lover of Aaron Copland's classic ballets such as "Appalachian Spring" and "Rodeo," Dance Panels patiently awaits your attention. It is a neglected masterpiece, a work of the highest craft and concentration that speaks in the assured cadences of Copland's mature populist style. There are echos of Stravinsky's lean, propulsive neoclassicism here, but Copland isn't simply a note-spinner or creator of elegant latticework. The piece, though austere in its rhetoric, abounds in sentiment and feeling as well, and this beauty is quite evident in what must be considered a definitive performance by Dennis Russell Davies and the Orchestra of St. Luke's.
Davies and his forces don't short the feeling but don't oversell it either. In other words, they understand Copland's sensibility, the precise balance of head and heart, the combination of prophetic authority and naked tenderness that gives his art its integrity. (As a counter-example, MTT's San Francisco performance of "Appalachian Spring" sounds appallingly cloying and sentimental by comparison.)
The felicities of this performance are to found everywhere. The solo trumpet that brings the work to life sounds perfectly lofty and regal. The snare drum soloist combines exactitude with a kind of fiery abandon -- most impressive. And the whole orchestra executes Copland's hair-trigger rhythms with uncanny precision and aplomb. This is an orchestra that lives inside the idiom.
The disc is filled out with an excellent rendition of the "Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson," given jewel-like expression by Helen Schiederman, and Copland's great neglected modernist Short Symphony, which is given a performance that equals any I've heard.
This disc isn't simply an example of the finest professional music making you are liable to hear anytime -- it has the feeling of a labor of love, an act of devotion and service to the great composer by his loyal acolytes. As such, it is an indispensable document of American music and well worth seeking out.
This recording was also issued by the Musical Heritage Society and might be had for a song, if you look in the right places.