Superlative, classic readings of Copland scores by his most ardent admirer among conductors, in fine sound.

COPLAND: Symphony No. 3 in E Major; Quiet City; Appalachian Spring Suite – Georges Mager, trumpet/ Louis Speyer, Eng. horn/ Lukas Foss, p./ Boston Sym. Orch./ Serge Koussevitzky – Pristine Audio PASC 458, 73:09 [avail. in various formats from] *****:

Aaron Copland conceived his Third Symphony (1946) through a commission from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation; and while Serge Koussevitzky gave the premiere at Symphony Hall, Boston 18 October 1946, he never inscribed the work for the RCA label. Copland claimed that Koussevitzky “liked music in the grand manner.” The rendition well-preserved here, courtesy of Andrew Rose, derives from a Carnegie Hall concert – the music’s fourth realization – 16 November 1946. The music reflects the composer’s post-War optimism, essentially a kind of spiritual progress from the nation’s rural origins through an industrial mentality, and into a dance-like third movement; and finally, a declamation of heroism in its “Fanfare for the Common Man” – commissioned by Eugene Goossens in 1942 Cincinnati for a series of fanfares – that opens the Allegro risoluto. Hailed as “the Great American Symphony” by Koussevitzky and various critics, the work received both praise and guarded censure for its hortatory eloquence and occasional bombast. Fellow composer David Diamond insisted that Copland make the symphony big, a testament to the American spirit. And if anyone can impart both noble and tragic grandeur to a score, Koussevitzky can. Several of the riffs in the Andantino seem a spill-over from and into Appalachian Spring.  What we receive, finally, serves as an American musical pageant, an American “sound” that defines the sensibility of a race who sees Copland and Whitman as its poetic voices.

Quiet City (1940) portrays the inner drives and aspirations of a young trumpet player as conceived by writer Irwin Shaw for a stage play. The English horn part means to provide contrast and “breathing spaces” for the solo trumpet, here (10 March 1945) intoned by Georges Mager. The piece, set in one lyric movement, breathes a rich, yearning atmosphere, and the audience at Symphony Hall, Boston well appreciates the moment. The 1944 folk ballet Appalachian Spring performance (13 April 1946) enjoys the “currency” of having its principal, Martha Graham, present as a vital force in American dance, assigning the ballet a title derived from a poem by Hart Crane. Along with the commercial inscription Koussevitzky made, this live performance becomes as vital to the ballet’s discography as those accompanying live realizations by Mitropoulos and Rodzinski.  The vitality and authenticity of the occasion never suffer any lapse in tension, the alternately uplifted and tragic colors vivid in the muscular terms this most Gallic of American orchestras could provide.

A personal note: when I met Aaron Copland in Syracuse for a concert that featured – along with Schubert’s Fifth, Walton’s Portsmouth Point Overture, and Stravinsky’s Suite from the Firebird – this score, he signed my British RCA Victrola LP of Appalachian Spring, our having mutually agreed that the entire Syracuse Symphony concert paid homage to Koussevitzky.

—Gary Lemco