Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony - Aaron Copland The Populist (2000)

Posted By: Designol
Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony - Aaron Copland The Populist (2000)

Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony - Aaron Copland The Populist (2000)
EAC | FLAC | Tracks (Cue&Log) ~ 292 Mb | Mp3 (CBR320) ~ 197 Mb | Scans included
Genre: Classical | Label: RCA Victor Red Seal | # 09026-63511-2 | Time: 01:16:30

The three Copland classics on this disc–Billy the Kid, Appalachian Spring and Rodeo–are all ballet scores, and from the very first bars of Billy, with its evocative depiction of the wide-open prairies, you are firmly in the territory of music that tells a story. But you don't need to follow all the ins and outs of each story to enjoy music which paints as vivid a picture of rural America as you could hope for. If the sprightly "Hoe Down" from Rodeo brings a splash of colour to concert programmes, the remarkable thing about so much of the music in these three pieces is how quietly sensitive it is. And while Michael Tilson Thomas does not hold back in wringing every last ounce of splashy razzmatazz, he is equally the master of introspective music which clearly demonstrates that you don't need to be loud to be a populist. The recordings were made in the San Francisco Symphony's home, Davies Symphony Hall. You couldn't hope for more authentic performances than this–more than 76 minutes of dyed-in-the-wool Americana.

Review by Keith Clarke

It is a strange quirk of musical history that the sound of the American West was invented by an Easterner half-a-century after the event. Or rather, reinvented, because today when we think of The West we think not of cowboy folk songs and 'Negro' spirituals, but of the music of Aaron Copland, specifically the three ballet scores represented on this album, and of the film music which followed. There are literally dozens of albums which have presented performances of various combinations of these three scores, and here we are offered the familiar suites from Billy the Kid and Rodeo, plus the complete ballet Appalachian Spring.

At the recent Copland Centenary concerts given in London conductor Leonard Slatkin said that by only hearing the suites we miss out on a lot of good music. He emphasised that this is the case with Billy the Kid, where in the suite we are deprived of the entire last third and ending to the story. After which Slatkin went on to conduct a complete performance of ballet. Given that the complete Billy the Kid runs around 35 minutes, and with the preponderance of recordings of the suite, I can't help but feel that this album has missed the opportunity to couple the complete Billy the Kid with the complete Appalachian Spring, leaving Rodeo for another time. Whatever might have been, the centrepiece, literally and figuratively, is a comparatively rare opportunity to hear the complete orchestral version of Appalachian Spring, and so fine is it that afterwards I doubt you will not want to go back to the suite very often. Indeed, so good are Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony that together they have produced versions of these Copland classics to rival Leonard Bernstein. My reservation above apart, this is a superb release.

The disc opens with Billy the Kid, here a 21 minute single movement suite. As befits music for a killer, there is a darker colouring than often to The Open Prairie (the disc does not give the original titles), almost a touch of film noir which suggests both grandeur but also steel in the soul. There is something of Herrmann about the ferocity Slatkin brings to the brass, not allowing us to forget that within this celebration of the frontier is a story of psychopathic, cold-blooded murder. It is a contradiction at the heart of America's legend of itself which is never entirely satisfactorily resolved in this essentially romantic music.

Rodeo is 19 minutes in four movements, and being a more wholesome story is able to deliver less guilty pleasures. This is dance music in every sense, incorporating a 'Saturday Night Waltz' and a 'Hoe Down' among other folk and folk inspired material. Thomas brings forth a lovely 'Corral Nocturne', which although it sounds like a folk melody is original Copland, while the finale, the 'Hoe Down' is as boisterous, infectious and exhilarating as any version put on record. Contributing to the joyful effect is the dynamic and clear recording. Instruments are very well defined in the soundstage, and where required, for example, the muted trumpet solo midway through Billy the Kid, there is a good acoustic sense of distance and open space.

Appalachian Spring lasts for 35 minutes in a single movement, rather than the 20-22 of the suite. Of course all the familiar material is here, but in being spread over a greater time span, and interspersed with music of significant unease and conflict, takes on a wider portrait of community struggle. There is a feeling here that the victories really do have to be won, such that when the famous 'big tune', the Shaker melody 'Simple Gifts' expands through a series of neo-Baroque variations to an epic statement with triumphant brass we are truly uplifted. Thomas takes his time, unfolding his Americana with all the skill of a great musical dramatist who knows exactly how to pace his story. There is a bigger and darker climax too, music which in its menace allows for an ultimately more rewarding, for harder earned, epilogue. Populist or otherwise, this music is at the very heart of modern America, leading almost directly to such iconic scores as The Big Country by Jerome Moross and The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein. The suite eliminates the more 'filmic' parts of the work, but listening to the finale third the influence is clear on every (good) action film score we hear today. On this evidence, more really is more, and as the advertising moguls might say, unless you've heard Appalachian Spring complete you haven't heard Appalachian Spring at all!

Whether an admirer of Copland, Americana, or the wide open spaces of Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams, this is an essential recording which should please a wide musical constituency. One of the finest albums of the year.

Review by Gary S. Dalkin,

Copland’s ‘Big Three’ in performances of tremendous power and panache, and marvellously well engineered into the bargain

They’ve already dazzled us with ‘Copland the Modernist’ (RCA, 3/97); now Michael Tilson Thomas and his stunning San Francisco band champion ‘Copland the Populist’ and those three great ballet scores of 1938-44, Billy the Kid, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring. For the latter, Tilson Thomas boldly opts for the rarely heard full orchestral version of the complete ballet score (Slatkin does likewise on his quite admirable 1985 recording with the St Louis Symphony, part of an all-Copland ‘twofer’ on EMI Double Forte). This includes an extra 10 or so minutes of fretful, dark-hued music omitted from the familiar suite (try from around 22’), after which that glorious final statement of Simple Gifts seems to emerge with even greater eclat and emotional release than usual. Elsewhere, these newcomers distil all the tender poetry and dewy freshness you could wish for, while bringing a marvellously supple spring and athletic purpose to any faster music.

Under Tilson Thomas, the suite from Billy the Kid opens with a real sense of ‘once upon a time’ wonder, the illimitable expanses of the prairie stretching out before our very eyes. The ensuing street scene soon generates an infectious rhythmic snap, and there’s a wonderfully affecting contribution from the SFSO’s principal trumpet during the card game at night (sample from 11'45'' onwards). Best of all is ‘Billy’s death’ (17'36''), as poignantly intoned as I’ve ever heard it. Absolutely no grumbles, either, about the four Rodeo dance episodes. Tilson Thomas sees to it that ‘Buckaroo Holiday’ packs all the requisite punch and high-kicking swagger, while the two middle numbers ravish the ear in their disarming beauty. Moreover, the concluding ‘Hoe-Down’ goes with terrific, toe-tapping gusto, though the orchestra’s delirious whoops of delight some two minutes in may perhaps strike some listeners as rather too much of a good thing (they didn’t bother me one little bit, I have to say).

Boasting some handsomely opulent, exhilaratingly expansive sonics, this is one corker of a release.'

Review by Andrew Achenbach, Gramophone

Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony - Aaron Copland The Populist (2000)

Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony - Aaron Copland The Populist (2000)


01. Billy The Kid (21:17)

02. Appalachian Spring (35:56)

03. Rodeo - I. Buckaroo Holiday (07:30)
04. Rodeo - II. Corral Nocturne (03:55)
05. Rodeo - III. Saturday Night Waltz (04:27)
06. Rodeo - IV. Hoe Down (03:23)

Exact Audio Copy V1.0 beta 4 from 7. December 2014

EAC extraction logfile from 18. March 2015, 3:31

Copland / The Populist - San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas

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foobar2000 1.2 / Dynamic Range Meter 1.1.1
log date: 2016-02-05 16:55:35

Analyzed: Copland / The Populist - San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas

DR Peak RMS Duration Track
DR18 0.00 dB -25.04 dB 21:17 01-Billy The Kid
DR20 -1.64 dB -28.60 dB 35:56 02-Appalachian Spring
DR17 -1.43 dB -24.52 dB 7:31 03-Rodeo - I. Buckaroo Holiday
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Number of tracks: 6
Official DR value: DR16

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Codec: FLAC

Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony - Aaron Copland The Populist (2000)

Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony - Aaron Copland The Populist (2000)