When people think of American classical music, it isn't too surprising that the first name that pops into everyone's mind is that of Aaron Copland.
But Virgil Thomson, who lived a very long life, from 1895 to 1989, and served as a long-time music critic, can also be said to have contributed mightily to the "American Sound" that shaped classical music duing the 20th century. Evidence of that is made quite clear in this hugely memorable recording, made in 1976 by Sir Neville Marriner and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, of Thomson's scores for Pare Lorentz's documentary films "The Plow That Broke The Plains" (from 1936) and "The River" (from 1937), plus "Autumn", a concertino for harp soloist, string orchestra, and percussion section. As would be common in Copland's music, particularly for his Old West ballets "Billy The Kid" and "Rodeo", Thomson makes very solid use of American folk ballads in the film score suites, most notably "Old Paint" and "Streets Of Laredo" in the "Cattle" section of "The Plow That Broke The Plains"--this and the use of folk music instruments like the guitar and the banjo. "The River" also makes use of folk music, notably the interpolation of "Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight."
And finally, "Autumn" is a ravishing piece, primarily arranged from the composer's Second Piano Sonata of 1929. Ann Mason Stockton serves as the harp soloist, and Marriner and the L.A. Chamber Orchestra provide fine accompaniment.
This recording shows very little of its age; and for anyone interested in classically-slanted Americana, this is as essential listening as any recording of the works of Copland or Leonard Bernstein.
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