Sunday, November 19, 2006

Music: Aaron Copland: Rodeo, The Red Pony, Prairie Journal, Letter From Home Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra / JoAnn Falletta

Aaron Copland: Rodeo, The Red Pony, Prairie Journal, Letter From Home
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
Naxos Classical

Aaron Copland’s (1900–1990) music has enjoyed three intellectually empathetic conductors – Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas, and the composer himself. This list has more or less remained fixed since Thomas’ Copland: Old American Songs & Canticle of Freedom & Four Motets on Sony (1987). Finally, we may add to this list maestro JoAnn Falletta. Falletta and her Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra have produced the most adroit and well-performed Copland collection released in some time.

Copland, son of Polish-Lithuanian Jewish parents enjoyed a broad musical education both in the United States, with Rubin Goldmark (1872–1936) and Paris, with Nadia Boulanger (1887–1979). Copland was exposed to many composers while in Europe, being especially enamored of the Ballets Russes of Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev (1872–1929), an influence that resulted in Grohg (1925/32), Billy the Kid (1938), Rodeo (1942), and Appalachian Spring (1944).

Copland was a master of small spaces, short compositions like ballets, suites, poems, and musical scenes. He was also a master of incorporating American folk melodies into his compositions, making his pieces, perhaps more than those of hid enigmatic contemporary, Charles Ives, a popular musical snapshot of the American spirit. It is from these richly textured smaller works Falletta has chosen her and her Buffalo Orchestra’s recital.

Refreshingly (and somewhat frustrating) is this collection does not include Appalachian Spring. Falletta instead chooses to devote digital space to lesser recorded works such as Prairie Journal. This creative gamble pays off in an effective collection of Copland miniatures. Falletta takes full advantage of Buffalo’s robust brass and rumbling bass strings. The conductor’s pacing and sense of rhythm are inerrant as is easily heard of the most famous vignette presented, “Hoe Down” from Rodeo as well as in the remaining ballet dance episodes presented.

Also beyond reproach is Falletta’s gentle transformations in diminuendo and crescendo sections (I cite the dynamic flux of Prairie Journal and Rodeo’s “Buckaroo Holiday,” offering similar challenges. As film soundtrack, the selections from The Red Pony possess a manifold dynamism requiring an informed and delicate conducting hand. Letter From Home is plaintive and pastoral, a love note sent from afar, recalling home. If Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique is program music, then all of the compositions recorded herein are American program music, performed is great grace and attention.

Track Listing:

Prairie Journal; Rodeo - 4 Dance Episodes: No. 1. Buckeroo Holiday,No. 2. Corral Nocturne, No. 3. Saturday Night Waltz, No. 4. Hoe – Down, Letter from Home, The Red Pony Suite (orchestral version): I. Morning on the Ranch, II. The Gift, IIIa. Dream March, IIIb Circus March, IV. Walk to the Bunkhouse, V. Grandfather's Story, VI. Happy Ending.

This review was first published in

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2006