COPLAND: Short Portrait – Orchestral and solo bar. works including Piano Concerto; El Salon Mexico; Appalachian Spring; Old American Songs – Stereo-only SACD Praga Digitals

by | May 10, 2014 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

COPLAND: (1900-1990) – Short Portrait – Orchestral and solo baritone works including Piano Concerto; El Salon Mexico; Appalachian Spring; Old American Songs (Detailed track listings follow) – Stereo-only SACD Praga Digitals PRD/DSD 350 086 [4/8/14], 78:07 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) ****:

Praga Digitals has gifted us with a welcome look back at some of the glorious music of Aaron Copland, much of it performed and conducted by the composer himself. Copland wasn’t the flashiest conductor of his own works, but his work with the baton was always interesting, and on this disc his piano performance is quite satisfying. Praga has collected these master tapes from recordings held by Columbia, Westminster and Angel. Performances date back to 1959 through 1964. All are two channel stereo.

The Plano Concerto, not often talked about, but well represented on CD, dates from 1926 and I think is one of the real gems on this disc. Copland only wrote two concertos in his life, the other a Clarinet Concerto. Here, Copland performs his own work with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic in a 1964 recording.

The melodic and song-like first movement is followed by a rhythmically complex last movement. This archival recording is really quite good, with deep bass and acceptable but not extended highs. The re-mastering was well done and the SACD format gives us some detail that would otherwise be missing.

We also get Copland’s well know El Salon Mexico and Appalachian Spring. The former is with the Utah Symphony and Abravanel and the Appalachian Spring is a fine performance with Dorati and the London Symphony. El Salon sounds excellent throughout the instruments range. Highs are clear and unrestricted, while stereo separation is quite realistic. The Appalachian Spring re-master is also quite well done. It’s age is not audible. The sound is first rate.

The disc concludes with Baritone William Warfield singing Copland’s Old American Songs. I fondly remember my old Columbia LP, and the sound here is very nicely rendered. Copland conducts the Columbia Symphony. Warfield is nicely centered in the stereo image and the orchestra has a pleasant stereo spread between my speakers.

This release is part of Praga’s Reminiscences series, and it is bringing forward music that might otherwise be lost. There isn’t any sonic sacrifice with this disc, except for a slight loss of crispness on the Piano Concerto. Highly recommended for Copland aficionados.


CONCERTO for piano and orchestra (1926)
Aaron Copland, piano. New York Philharmonic Orch., Leonard Bernstein
New York, at the old Philharmonic Hall of Lincoln Center, January 13, 1964

EL SALÓN MÉXICO (1936) (Koussevitzky Edition 1938))
Utah Sym., Maurice Abravanel
Salt Lake City, February 10, 1959, Philharmonic Hall (today Abravanel Hall). Stereo recording Westminster Lab

APPALACHIAN SPRING, orchestral suite (1945)
from original ballet music dedicated to Martha Graham
London Sym. Orch., Antal Dorati
London, Watford Town Wall, June 15-16, 1961

OLD AMERICAN SONGS (complete), for voice and orchestra (1950, 1952)
William Warfield, baritone. Columbia Sym. Orch., Aaron Copland
New York City, Manhattan Center, January 10-12, 1962

—Mel Martin


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