Copland: The Populist - Michael Tilson Thomas & San Francisco Symphony User Reviews

  • Copland, from the Horse's Mouth...

    By IKS
    ... Well, almost. But, Tilson-Thomas's connection with Copland, both historically and spiritually, is so direct, one can almost see Aaron's big toothy grin as he listens to this heavenly performance from a prime seat, somewhere in San Francisco's cozy Davies Symphony Hall. For decades now, the gold-standard recording of these Copland "Americana" pieces has been Leonard Bernstein's 1960's Columbia date with the NY Philharmonic -- a performance that still leaps off the speakers in a magical way, to be sure, despite aging recorded sound. Yet here, with this MTT/SFS release, we have at last struck the magic chord: an inspired conductor who knew Copland personally; a killer orchestra; a top-drawer digital recording; and a performance to make you alternately dab your eyes, tap your toes, and whoop with joy. Has a "Hoe-Down" ever whip-cracked as thrillingly as this one? On Copland's up-tempo numbers, this San Francisco bunch is as tight and punchy as a bluegrass band, blowing any hint of orchestral blowsiness right out the window. Then, in the great evocative moments -- the opening sunrise of "Billy the Kid", the quiet caresses of the "Corral Nocturne", "Appalachian Spring's" green landscapes -- no orchestra has ever played as out-of-body as this. (The "Corral Nocturne", in fact, stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it. The SFS's strings were as airy and gentle as a whisper -- I just had to hear them do that again before I went on!) Another plus: for this recording, Tilson-Thomas chooses the earlier, lengthier version of "Appalachian Spring" originally commissioned by Martha Graham for her ballet, and which has been rarely recorded. This version includes an entire section of intense, hammering music -- a visit by a scary fire-and-brimstone preacher in the ballet -- that precedes the famous final swell of "Simple Gifts". To hear this for the first time is a revelation, and it gives the big final push much more dramatic sense. The great transition from darkness to light arises from a real suggestion of clouds on the horizon. All in all, a historic achievement by Michael Tilson-Thomas and his merry band. Can't ask for better than that.

Albums From Michael Tilson Thomas & San Francisco Symphony