Copland’s two ballet suites seem to be the musical ground from which not only countless soundtracks for Western movies have evolved, but also the basic materials for the type of orchestral sound so easily identified as “American” in nature and mood. These were all originally recorded as three-channel masters in l957 and 1960, and I recall how the tympani evocation of gunshots in Billy the Kid provided a favorite hi-fi demo passage for audio buffs in the 60s. Sometimes poor tracking of cartridge or tonearm caused the stylus to leap right out of the grooves at the onset of the “gunshots” – similar to the tracking problem of the cannon in Telarc’s “1812.” Copland’s musical evocation of the High Noon-type showdown on the Western street has not been surpassed by anyone else, and this version conducted by a good friend of both composers has a dramatic impact not equaled by many others.
What can be said about the Grand Canyon Suite? It’s also quintessential musical Americana. I can’t help visualizing the Disney travelogue film I saw as a child whenever I hear this music. The Cloudburst movement has always seemed to me just as wonderful a piece of tone-painting as the Storm in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, and here it receives a spectacular recording that almost moves one to get out an umbrella. It’s unfortunate that a difference-signal feed could not have been generated from the front channels to provide optional surround feeds on the disc, but the three-front-channel layout does widen and deepen the soundstage vs. the standard two-channel SACD option. I’m not sure if other AV processors do this, but my Sunfire Theater Grand will not allow selection of ProLogic II when the mode is set at 6-channel direct for multichannel playback. It allows creation of a derived surround field with ProLogic II at the two-channel setting, but then the advantages of the center channel feed filling out the frontal soundstage are lost.
– John Sunier