Review by: Robert Levine
Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 7
This is the world premiere recording of the chamber version of Aaron Copland’s only opera, The Tender Land, arranged by Murray Sidlin and enthusiastically sanctioned by Copland himself. In 1995 Philip Brunelle led a superb reading of the “big” version of the opera on Virgin Classics. I’m tempted to say that if you own that one you don’t need this one, but in some ways the reduced orchestra suits the intimate story and directness of the characters even better. What has always been remarkable about this opera is not that it is sweet, innocent, and cloying, but that it somehow avoids being cloying while at the same time remaining sweet and innocent. But that’s what makes Copland’s genius so special, and those who love Appalachian Spring will discover much of the same feeling of warmth and homespun verisimilitude here.
The performance is excellent–the chamber orchestra plays handsomely and with great sentiment, and the singers react to the music as if they were living each moment for the first time. Suzan Hanson makes the most of Laurie, singing her first act “Once I thought” with the right combination of winsomeness and reality, and her love music with Martin, sung robustly and with charm by tenor Robert MacNeil, makes for some beautiful listening. Milagro Vargas is protective and correctly–or incorrectly–pessimistic as Ma, while Richard Zeller’s baritone is a bit light and young-sounding for Grandpa. Douglas Webster sings the role of Top, Martin’s fellow wanderer, with real verve. Indeed, the quintet that ends Act One, “The promise of living”, in which all five lead characters take part, is simply ravishing. The rest of the cast is excellent. The recording itself is a bit recessed–pump up the volume. Try not to do without this; it’s a beauty. [6/13/2000]
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AARON COPLAND - The Tender Land: Complete Chamber Version