Copland Piano Concerto;Appalachian Spring etc
Here is typically selfless, unaffected music-making from the admirable Seattle Symphony/Schwarz partnership. Aided by clean-cut, nicely responsive orchestral playing, Schwarz locates an unadorned, deceptively powerful purity in Appalachian Spring which certainly accords with Copland’s own assessment of Martha Graham’s original choreography (“There’s something prim and restrained, a strong quality about her, that one tends to think of as American; her style is seemingly, but only seemingly, simple and extremely direct”). At once invigorating and unsentimental, Schwarz’s lucid reading carries less emotional pungency than, say, Bernstein’s inspirationally intense Los Angeles account for DG, yet is no less moving in its cool understatement and quiet honesty.
Both the Piano Concerto (1926) and Symphonic Ode (1927-9) were commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky, the latter work to celebrate the Boston Symphony’s fiftieth anniversary. The concerto (Copland’s final jazz-inspired composition) was roundly condemned by the conservative Boston critics following its January 1928 premiere (“A harrowing horror from beginning to end” was a fairly typical reaction). Nowadays, of course, the music’s spiky lyricism and bracing rhythmic flair seem entirely endearing. Hollander and Schwarz form a fine partnership, less highly charged, perhaps, than the composer and Bernstein on their 1964 CBS recording with the NYPO, but compelling for all that; many will prefer the newcomers’ more playful, less abrasive manner in the outrageous bar-room antics of the jazzy finale. As for the imposing Symphonic Ode, Schwarz and his Seattle band do it proud. This meticulously prepared new account combines brilliance, sheen and (where necessary) dignity; by comparison, Copland’s own 1967 recording (made at Walthamstow Town Hall with a rather raucous-sounding, occasionally shaky LSO) now seems just a little too rough-and-ready for comfort.
Exemplary, rich-toned work throughout from the Delos engineers (terrific bass-drum sounds in the Symphonic Ode) further enhances this high-class Copland collection.'