Aaron Copland is a composer who seems to flow in and out of favor with the critics but remains in the bloodstream of American audiences. This recording by Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony offers three of Copland's most familiar masterpieces in performances that truly underline the genius that was Aaron Copland. Given that many conductors, not the least of which includes Leonard Bernstein, Thomas Schippers, and Marin Alsop, have given superb performances of each of these ballets, it may sound presumptuous to claim that this Tilson Thomas recording is the Gold Standard. But just listen to the energy of performances and the quality of interpretation and recording and see if you're not hearing these pieces anew.
MTT draws exceptionally fine playing from his SFO and his tutelage with Leonard Bernstein is apparent. But MTT has extensively studied these scores and has his own opinions - opinions that make the works each more solid and sound. 'Billy the Kid' has all the combination of menace and danger of the tale but also manages to bounce into wildly exuberant dancing. The four episodes from 'Rodeo' are full of fire and vixen and celebration and elegant writing. But for this listener the finest achievement is in MTT's choice of recording the full ballet 'Appalachian Spring' and not for the original 'chamber (read 'pit') orchestra', but instead for the full orchestral version that allows more color, more sensitivity in sparring orchestral choirs, and in more radiant innocence and beauty of tone. This is a stunning achievement and one by which all other performances and recordings must be judged.
For those whose library already holds individual recordings of these Copland works, this triad is a must. For those who have liked but have never taken Copland seriously, the experience of these performances will alter the appreciation of Aaron Copland as one of the populist masters of the last century. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, June 06