COPLAND Symphony No 3. 3 Latin American Sketches
Copland described his Third Symphony (1946) as an ‘end-of-war piece – intended to reflect the euphoric spirit of the country at the time’. Bernstein brilliantly conveyed this feeling of hard-won jubilation in his celebrated 1966 recording with the New York Philharmonic (now on Sony), and again, 20 years later, on his broader but still electric account for DG.
Leonard Slatkin took a more relaxed, picturesque view in 1989 with the Saint Louis Symphony (RCA), substituting a kind of pastoral lyricism for Bernstein’s grit. His tempos are even more spacious on this new Naxos recording from Detroit. Indeed, the first movement feels quite lethargic at times, giving the music an oddly elegiac character. And the opening minutes of the scherzo-like second movement are also frustratingly sluggish. Surely the jittery passage beginning at 2'14" is meant to suggest giddiness; here it is merely poised. Then, suddenly, around 4'30", the interpretation clicks: the orchestra’s playing is so shapely, so warmly consolatory, it’s difficult not to be won over. And when the boisterous opening section returns, there’s more energy.
Slatkin’s tempo for the Andantino quasi allegretto feels more like an adagio á la Shostakovich and paints rather too desolate a landscape for my liking. Here again, however, Slatkin’s attention to colouristic detail, and the expressive intensity of the Detroit Symphony’s playing, are riveting. The DSO strings sound more secure than their SLSO counterparts and Naxos’s engineering is unquestionably superior (listen, for instance, to the glistening notes of the harp at 6'17" in the finale). I only wish Slatkin had as tight a grip on the opening movement as he does in the last, which is measured but resolute.
Why we never hear the delightful Three Latin American Sketches is a mystery. And if Slatkin’s relaxed reading doesn’t quite capture the snap and ‘sizzle’ Copland said he had in mind, it’s still a charmer.