Copland Piano Concerto

Song-sets, an operatic suite, and all that jazz in the Piano Concerto

Author: 
Peter Dickinson

Copland Piano Concerto

  • (The) Tender Land
  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
  • Old American Songs Set 1
  • Old American Songs Set 2

Copland’s concise Piano Concerto languished virtually unknown for decades after its 1926 premiere. Then Copland recorded it himself with Bernstein in 1962 and others followed. The first of its two movements is a spacious outpouring of fanfares and blues and the second is a crazy kind of supercharged ragtime that really upset the Boston audience and critics. It shows how Copland exploited the jazz age to brilliant effect. A thoroughly efficient performance with Pasternack but the orchestral sound with Ohlsson under Tilson Thomas is more alluring (Sony, 3/97 – nla).

In spite of two recordings, The Tender Land is considered unsuccessful as an opera. It has never been produced on TV as intended, and even this effective suite from it is rarely performed. The story is about a girl leaving home and it’s even been suggested that it could have been a cover for a gay boy coming out. It’s Copland in gentle rural mode not long after Appalachian Spring.

The two sets of Old American Songs (the first one contains the Appalachian Spring Shaker hymn) are best known in the versions for solo voice and piano although these choral arrangements – not by Copland – can be compared with orchestral versions with Thomas Hampson. These infectiously enjoyable settings work well, especially those arranged by Irving Fine: good soloists in a relaxed choral context.

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