COPLAND Appalachian Spring. Hear Ye! Hear Ye!
Appalachian Spring is most frequently heard in the 1945 concert suite for full orchestra, which omits around nine minutes of music from the original chamber score of the year before. As with his previous recording with the St Louis Symphony for EMI, however, Leonard Slatkin opts for the full length orchestral version of the ballet prepared by Copland in 1954 at the behest of Eugene Ormandy. Most of the material restored to the ballet takes the form of an extended passage that immediately precedes the majestic final variation of the Shaker hymn ‘Simple Gifts’ – a discursive interruption perhaps, but one that adds a degree of emotional weight to the work. Slatkin’s new interpretation is vigorous and communicative, and the playing is distinguished too, but the recording has a close-up perspective that’s not always conducive to conveying the music’s repose and atmosphere; in this respect the plusher EMI recording is preferable, as is RCA’s recording for Tilson Thomas.
Set in a courtroom during a murder trial, Copland’s ballet Hear Ye! Hear Ye! was composed in 1934 for the dancer and choreographer Ruth Page. Although early performances were moderately successful, Copland was dissatisfied with the music and withdrew both the ballet and a concert-suite version shortly afterwards. Despite a number of ideas that haunt the mind’s ear, the writing lacks the inspiration of Copland’s finest writing and offers only an intermittently satisfying listening experience. That said, Oliver Knussen’s performance with the London Sinfonietta, originally released by Argo, is remarkably successful in bringing the score to life, helped by a demonstration-class recording. Slatkin’s new version is vivid and direct but doesn’t quite have the same panache and, as with Appalachian Spring, the recording is rather close and airless. The Naxos disc does not identify the 18 scenes of the ballet, although they are listed on the Naxos website.