Copland Conducts Copland
Copland was 75 when this short but attractive concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic was filmed for the long-running PBS arts series Great Performances. The video shows Copland as a precise, energetic and alert conductor, smiling happily at the orchestra after each piece and enjoying himself enormously in the performance of the Hoedown from the ballet Rodeo. It’s a great watch, and a rewarding listen as well.
As with his studio recording of the Fanfare for the Common Man with the London Symphony Orchestra, Copland’s interpretation is focused more on presenting the work’s nobility and strength of purpose than its dramatic impact. The playing of the LA Phil’s brass is excellent, the trumpets at the start especially precise and gleaming. There’s also some fine solo playing in the engaging account of El Salón México which follows.
The performance of the Clarinet Concerto features Benny Goodman, who commissioned the work from Copland almost three decades earlier and gave the first performance. Goodman doesn’t seem entirely at ease with the elegiac first movement here but the faster-paced second movement comes off extremely well, and Copland draws especially expressive playing from the strings.
Copland’s lively interpretation of Hoedown makes one regret the absence of the other three movements of Rodeo from the concert but compensation comes in the form of the rarely performed suite from the even more rarely performed opera The Tender Land. The ardent performance of the first movement, ‘Introduction and Love Music’, is extremely moving, while the characterful singing of the Los Angeles Master Chorale gives the following two movements, ‘Party Scene’ and ‘Finale: The Promise of Living’, a very different feel to the purely orchestral account that Copland recorded with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1959. It’s an unjustly neglected piece, as Copland was no doubt keen to demonstrate in this excellent performance.
The video direction is in the safe hands of Kirk Browning, whose early work with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra set the scene for a decades-long career providing arts coverage for American television. Browning keeps the camera moving but he knows what to show and when to show it. The 1970s video image suffers from some horizontal banding and general smudginess but the soundtrack is in stereo and sounds good, with only a smidgen of tape hiss.