Copland: American Songs
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Copland's Eight Songs of Emily Dickinson comprise one of the finest song cycles by an American composer, and a perfect meeting of minds between poet and composer. Dickinson's verses and Copland's music alternate plain-spun honesty and wry humor with sudden, unpredictable bursts of passion and pain and a complete lack of false sentimentality. The Old American Songs are simply a good time and you'll recognize many of the tunes even if you haven't remembered the words. Hampson and Upshaw are two of the finest American singers alive, and they perform this music as though they have a proprietary interest in it. A terrific record. --David Hurwitz
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But one aspect of his surprisingly gets overlooked, and that is in the field of song. Fortunately, that aspect is explored by legendary American classical vocalists Thomas Hampson and Dawn Upshaw, along with Hugh Wolff and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, on this superb Teldec release.
Copland’s two sets of Old American Songs could be considered our nation’s equivalent of the song cycles of such great Austro-German composers as Schubert, Schumann, and Mahler. In these adaptations, which were originally for voice and piano before Copland took to arrange them for modest-sized orchestral forces, the composer reveals the inherent humor (e.g. “The Dodger”; “I Bought Me A Cat”); the poignancy (“Simple Gifts”, the familiar Shaker hymn that was a big part of his ballet “Appalachian Spring”); and the spirituality (“At The River”) of the American art song. It also helps that you have Thomas Hampson, one of the great American baritones of all times, singing these songs. And it also helps that the equally great vocalist Dawn Upshaw, one of our premiere classical sopranos, essays Copland’s “Eight Poems Of Emily Dickinson” with equal facility. This collection also contains two works for orchestra alone: “Down A Country Lane”, and three excerpts from the composer’s classic Old West ballet “Billy The Kid”.
For those who wonder if our country could ever match mainland Europe in terms of art songs, this recording is proof that, at the very least, we come close to it.