COPLAND Billy the Kid. Rodeo. El Salon Mexico
El Salón México wears well. It made a vivid impression at the ISCM Festival in London in 1938 and brought Copland wider fame and a publisher. Its tunes, as well as those in Billy the Kid and Rodeo, are mostly borrowed but of course brilliantly arranged in Copland’s instantly identifiable settings. His own recording of El Salón from the 1970s are both rhythmically tight and straight but Litton waxes slightly sentimental when the violins have the first lyrical melody. Further, the repetitive clarinet solo close to the end adds smears not in the score or the earlier performances. The same thing happens in the clarinet solos in the Ranch House Party in Rodeo, and there are trombone slides elsewhere. I don’t think Copland would have minded.
The two ballets here have been enormously influential and widely recorded, if not as ubiquitous as they used to be. These are the complete scores. However, they may be more effective as suites rather than the full ballet scores, although the complete Rodeo gives us Andrew Litton himself as a convincing honky-tonk pianist. Tempi in most modern recordings are slightly faster, a bit more driven than Copland’s own choices, but that’s how things are these days. The Outdoor Overture, written for a high-school orchestra – they must have been good – stems from the same pre-war period and is in Copland’s best optimistic vein. Overall, these lively performances make a useful collection.