Enjoyable (Mostly) Early Copland from Wilson

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

A pattern in this series is starting to emerge. John Wilson and the BBC Philharmonic tend to do better in Copland’s earlier works. The reason isn’t hard to fathom. These pieces are stylistically more diverse and exploratory, as well as less personal, than his later music, and they respond better to interpretations noteworthy for accuracy and a certain “French” deftness. A case in point is the First Symphony, here in its fully orchestral guise. Wilson has already made an excellent version of the original score for organ and orchestra, and so here we have essentially the same performance.

The Dance Symphony, based on the early ballet Grohg, has passages remarkably similar to those in the First Symphony (the quick music especially), and this version is equally sympathetic. I confess to having a soft spot for Statements, a gruff work where glimpses of the later, more rhetorically declarative composer begin to emerge, and here you start to notice that the playing could be more emphatic in spots, though Wilson’s pacing and ear for detail are undeniably expert.

The Outdoor Overture though, a piece of unabashed musical populism, lacks the brashness and color that its simplified style requires. And why do English orchestras insist on using those swooshy, clodhopper cymbals that have so little impact at the climaxes? This is the only work on the disc where you can really hear what’s missing in Wilson and the BBC’s performances of the later works: sheer character. For the most part, though, this recital is a winner, and a useful collection for those looking for a handy collection of less than usual Copland.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this collection

    Symphony No. 1 (version for orchestra alone); Statements; Dance Symphony; An Outdoor Overture

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