Copland / Lincoln Portrait / Mehta

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AMAZING A+++ sound from START TO FINISH for all three works on this White Hot Stamper 2-pack!

Both of the copies in this 2-pack have one Shootout Winning superb sounding side and one side that plainly just didn’t cut it, so we combined them to give you out of this world White Hot Stamper sound for the entire album. The two good sides (out of four) boast Demo Disc sound quality!

This may not be a Copland work you know well, and I’m guessing the percussion concerto is not familiar either. Both are quite interesting and enjoyable if not exactly Must Owns. That said, the main reason audiophiles will LOVE this album is not the music, but the SOUND. The percussion works which start on side one and take up all of side two have amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality — it’s hard to imagine a recording that allows your speakers to disappear more completely than this one.

We are on record as rarely being impressed with the recordings Zubin Mehta undertook as Music Director of the L.A. Phil. Audiophiles for some reason hold them in much higher esteem than we do, but then again audiophiles hold a great many recordings in much higher esteem than we do. It’s dumbfounding how many audiophiles and reviewers revere records which strike our ears as hard to take seriously. The TAS Super Disc List is full of them, and so are the entries in the annual Stereophile Records to Die For issue. We debunk them on the site by the carload, and even the hundreds that we’ve done are but a fraction of the bad records receiving undeserved praise in the audiophile rags over the years.

If more of Mehta’s London records sounded as good as the good sides do here, we would be offering many more titles from his Los Angeles oeuvre. Having played a dozen or more of them, and having judged them up against the best classical recordings of all time, most have fallen far short of our standards. The strings tend to be shrill and dry, which is often an immediate deal-killer for us in our weekly quick and dirty needle drop sessions. Hopelessness is not hard to hear (at least until another copy comes along).

Also, as is the case with many ’70s Londons, the overall presentation is often noticeably opaque and closed-in. (Solti’s later recordings suffer mightily from these problems and are generally to be avoided. Very few make it to our site as you may have noted. His ’60s recordings of course are often quite good; wish we could find more of them.)

Happily this Zubin Mehta recording breaks our losing streak with the L.A. Phil — it’s superb, the best of the half-dozen copies we played.

Side One – Record One (Copland & Kraft)

A+++, with huge amounts of space! So rich, with no shrillness to the strings. Gregory Peck’s voice is breathy and real.

The percussion piece that completes the side is superb, with harmonic extension to the stars and beyond!

Side Two – Record Two (Kraft)

A+++, clear and immediate, with a solid bottom. Those of you with very fast systems and big speakers will get the most out of this one. The stage is exceptionally wide, the sound as big and lively as any we know of. What powerful sound! What could be better?

Wikipedia on Lincoln Portrait

Lincoln Portrait is a classical orchestral work written by the American composer Aaron Copland. The work involves a full orchestra, with particular emphasis on the brass section at climactic moments. The work is narrated with the reading of excerpts of Abraham Lincoln’s great documents, including the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln Portrait was written by Copland as part of the World War II patriotic war effort in 1942.

Copland was asked to write a musical portrait of an “eminent American” by the conductor Andre Kostelanetz. Originally, Copland had wanted to portray Walt Whitman, but it was decided[who?] that a political figure was needed: “From this moment, Lincoln seemed inevitable.” (Copland)

Copland used material from speeches and letters of Lincoln and quoted original folk songs of the period, including “Camptown Races” and “Springfield Mountain”.

Concerto For Four Percussion Soloists and Orchestra

Featuring dazzling orchestration and absolutely knowledgeable percussion writing, this 19-minute work is one of the finest pure percussion concertos. It treats the percussion as a family possessing shimmering, subtle sonic colorations in addition to rhythmic drive and power. Despite its twelve-tone (serial) composition technique, the concerto’s excitement and color keep it widely appealing.

Born in Chicago in 1923, Kraft became one of the finest percussion players in America while studying composition with several leading composers. He was the principal timpanist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra from 1962 to 1981. Setting to work on the concerto while on a fellowship from the Huntington Hartford foundation in October 1964, Kraft made his first important composition decision in choosing what percussion instruments to use from the dozens or hundreds available.

He sought the following qualities: mellifluous sound, variety of color, ability to be both lyrical and dramatic, and ability to work and sound well with the other instruments, so the resulting sound would be smooth, integrated, and clear. Kraft chose five drums — membrane instruments — played with mallets, wooden drummed instruments such as wood block and temple block, and five metal instruments.

Each of the soloists has a main instrument and a few others. The first plays timpani plus five wood drums and tambourine; the second plays the five membranous drums, plus crotales (finger cymbals), xylophone, and bass drum; the third is vibraphone, plus five graduated metal instruments, xylophone, and bass drum; and the fourth has Glockenspiel plus xylophone, snare drum, song bells, and triangle.

The work lasts 18 to 19 minutes, with the final of its three movements occupying half of that time. Kraft composed the basic rhythm patterns first, then added pitches to provide the material for pitched percussion and orchestra. The first movement, “Recitativo Quasi Senza Misura,” creates the impression of having no basic time signature. (This is illusory; bar lines exist but only to keep coordination.) The movement is for percussion with interjections from the brass.

The four main percussion groups enter separately: snare drum, five membranous drums, five wood drums, and five graduated metal instruments (cymbals and triangles). The effect is dreamy and colorful, with a sense of energy being held in suspension. The energy releases in the second movement, Allegro con brio. This movement is for the percussion soloists only and is playful.

The energetic final movement is marked Cadenza con Variazioni. It begins with a timpani solo, which states a theme that becomes the basis for 12 variations. Kraft organizes the full orchestra so that it constantly builds throughout the ten-minute movement. In the end, the foundation of the music is an ostinato of timpani, reinforced by tuba, which obsessively drives the music.

The premiere of the concerto was on March 10, 1966. William Kraft, Walter Goodwin, Charles DeLancey, and Forrest Clark were the soloists and Zubin Mehta conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Kraft dedicated the work to Edgard Varèse, one of the pioneers in the use of percussion as an independent, or even solo, voice.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Lincoln Portrait For Speaker and Orchestra
Concerto For Four Percussion Soloists and Orchestra
Movements I, II, III

Side Two

Concerto For Four Percussion Soloists and Orchestra

Movement III

Contextures
Movements I, II, III, IV

Music for the Common Man: Aaron Copland during the Depression and War

Elizabeth Bergman

Some ten days after news of the attack on Pearl Harbor had circulated throughout the country, the conductor André Kostelanetz wrote to Jerome Kern, Virgil Thomson, and Aaron Copland with a commission. He hoped for three works that would have “a correlated idea in that they are to represent a musical portrait gallery of great Americans.” Kostelanetz suggested George Washington, Paul Revere, Walt Whitman, Robert Fulton, Henry Ford, and Babe Ruth as suitable subjects to memorialize in music. Thomson chose Fiorello LaGuardia, the mayor of New York City, along with the journalist Dorothy Thompson, his colleague at the Herald Tribune. Copland proposed Walt Whitman. But Kern had already selected Mark Twain, and because Kostelanetz did not want two writers in the group of three portraits, Copland turned to Lincoln.

Whitman and Lincoln were hardly random choices: They dominated the historical imagination of the Left—Communists, Democrats, and Popular Front alike. Both men were embraced as representatives from the American past of contemporary and democratic values. And both were associated with the Civil War, opposed to slavery, and committed to preserving the Union.

The sixteenth president was also coupled in the public mind with Roosevelt, who turned to Lincoln early and often during his twelve years in office. In a 1934 “Fireside Chat” on the role of government in the regulation of capitalism, Roosevelt quoted Lincoln to urge management and labor to support recovery programs of the New Deal. “I believe with Abraham Lincoln,” he asserted, “that ‘the legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all or cannot do so well for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.'”

Once the United States had entered the war, Lincoln became a touchstone of authority for the administration as it worked to clarify the aims of the war effort, justify the mobilization, prepare the public for a protracted struggle, and console a nation in mourning. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Office of War Information produced posters with a quote from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address intended to motivate Americans to war as much as to commemorate the dead: “…we here highly resolved that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

As a potent symbol in wide circulation, Lincoln was a fitting subject for Copland’s musical portrait, which he began to write in late February 1942. Unlike Thomson and Kern, who composed purely instrumental portraits, Copland wrote for speaker and orchestra.

As Copland explained, he chose passages not for their familiarity—although the Gettysburg Address is used at the end—but for their contemporary relevance. All of his selections evoke the political and moral challenges to American democracy posed by slavery in the Civil War and fascism in World War II. The narration for Lincoln Portrait speaks eloquently on the subject of slavery, but it also can be seen to reflect a contemporary concern for economic justice and to support the international fight against fascism. In the manuscript drafts for the narration, Copland cobbled together the following from an 1860 letter that Lincoln wrote to his friend Henry Asbury and an address Lincoln delivered that same year at the Cooper Union in New York City: “The fight must go on. The cause of civil liberty must not be surrendered at the end of one or even one hundred defeats… Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.” Copland quotes Lincoln to cast the Civil War as one battle in a continuing struggle for freedom.

Copland quotes music as well as text in Lincoln Portrait, setting two traditional American tunes: the eighteenth-century ballad “Springfield Mountain” and Stephen Foster’s minstrel song “Camptown Races.” First to appear is “Springfield Mountain.” The tune and its setting exemplify Copland’s pastoral idiom. The arching disjunct melody is set above a conjunct bass line; the harmony is diatonic; the texture homophonic, even chorale-like; and winds predominate. These musical codes evoke nostalgia, a longing for home tinged with a sense of loss. In one musical phrase, Copland establishes a sense of Lincoln’s time and place, long ago in rural America.

After the introduction of “Springfield Mountain,” the key suddenly brightens to E major, the tempo quickens, and a new theme appears. Fragments of “Camptown Races” are altered and abstracted, but the melodic and rhythmic profile of the tune remains recognizable. High-spirited and rough-hewn, like the young Lincoln of popular memory, “Camptown Races” appears only in this first purely instrumental section. It does not return in the section with the narrator, who assumes the voice of President Lincoln, and if the exuberance of the tune is associated with youth, its disappearance might signal maturity. In his choice and setting of these tunes, Copland captures the two sides of Lincoln as portrayed in Carl Sandburg’s biography: the solemn wartime president and the humble “rail splitter” from the backwoods. After each melody is presented separately, the two are brought together in counterpoint, offering a complete musical portrait of Lincoln as man and president. Then the speaker enters, who intones, “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.”

Throughout the section with the narrator, Copland’s original text seems to recapitulate the contrast and combination first presented by the purely instrumental themes. The simple, even folksy, descriptions of what Lincoln looked like, of where he was born and raised, are paired with a more stately and formal declaration that repeatedly introduces Lincoln’s words and so serves as aural quotation marks: “This is what he said, he said …” The phrase recalls a similar formulation—”And God said, saying …”—that appears frequently in the Hebrew Bible. Surrounded by Copland’s text, Lincoln’s own words sound both human and divine, pragmatic and idealistic.

Many people have narrated Lincoln Portrait since the premiere in 1942. The first was Williams Adams, a radio actor well known for portraying FDR on the series March of Time, which, like the movie newsreels, dramatized current events.

Who reads the text, and how it is read, necessarily influences how the piece is perceived. The presence of General “Stormin” Norman Schwarzkopf enhances the image of Lincoln as a wartime leader. James Earl Jones emphasizes the threefold repetition of “people” in the final line—”of the people, by the people, and for the people”—and in stentorian tones exhorts the listener to action with the righteous anger of an abolitionist. Nebraskan Henry Fonda, on the other hand, carefully measures his intonation to capture Lincoln’s humanity.

Another notable narrator was Coretta Scott King, who read the text in May 1968 in a memorial concert for her slain husband. In the 1950s, Copland witnessed “a fiery young Venezuelan actress” narrate a performance in her home country. After the final lines “the audience of six thousand rose to its feet as one and began shouting so loudly that I couldn’t hear the end of the piece.” The military dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez was deposed shortly thereafter, and Copland was “later told by an American foreign service officer that the Lincoln Portrait was credited with having inspired the first public demonstration against him—that in effect, it had started a revolution.”

The context in which the work is peformed also matters. During the spring of 1942 as Copland was composing Lincoln Portrait, Kostelanetz recalled that “our nation was in one of the darkest days in its history.”

Our Pacific Fleet had been all but destroyed. MacArthur, driven from Manila, was making a last-ditch stand on Corregidor. In Europe, our allies were beaten or facing defeat. France had fallen, Britain was reeling under a hail of fire bombs, and Russia was fighting at the gates of Moscow. Copland finished the rough sketch around Lincoln’s birthday, reworked and polished it that disastrous spring.

Kostelanetz continued, “by the time Copland finished it in April, the tide was starting to turn in the Pacific… . Americans were breathing a bit easier.” Just before the premiere on May 14 of that year, the United States scored a victory in the Battle of the Coral Sea, and Lincoln Portrait was met with loud applause. “Lincoln’s warnings fell on victory-deadened ears,” according to the conductor.

But the fortunes of war were to turn again. When Kostelanetz led another performance on July 15, it was clear to all Americans that the war would be long, hard, and costly. The narrator was Carl Sandburg; the First Lady and members of the Roosevelt administration were in attendance. Kostelanetz noted that “it had sunk in that in Europe we were in a war that saw no end. Hitler stood astride a continent and was reaching over Africa, perhaps the world… . America was grimly determined—but the road ahead was bloody and dark.”

“Even as I raised my baton,” he remembered, “President Roosevelt was in conferences with Admiral King and General Marshall to chart our course.” On this occasion, Copland’s music and Lincoln’s words “sounded with a terrible new clarity,” the conductor remarked. At the end of the performance there was silence.

Only in the wake of victory does Lincoln Portrait seem to trumpet that victory. In the midst of World War II, at a time when the Allied position was especially weak, it represents something more like hope on the verge of a breakthrough. Copland’s music stands at odds with the historical moment of its enunciations, promising deliverance from its present circumstances and resounding defiantly from the depths of despair. This difference between hope and celebration, between solidarity and authoritarianism, is measured by the different responses of audiences during the war. Following Allied success, Lincoln Portrait was met with applause; it tipped toward an authoritarian grandeur that hallows victory in order to forget the hallowed dead.

But at a time of defeat and uncertainty, Lincoln Portrait meant something else entirely. After the Allied setbacks in 1942, it was met with charged silence. The final sforzando, C-major triad was a wordless voice of providence and hope issued from an outdoor stage, some five hundred yards away from the Lincoln Memorial.

AMG Bio – Aaron Copland

Few figures in American music loom as large as Aaron Copland. As one of the first wave of literary and musical expatriates in Paris during the 1920s, Copland returned to the United States with the means to assume, for the next half century, a central role in American music as composer, promoter, and educator. Copland’s sheer popularity and iconic status are such that his music has transcended the concert hall and entered the popular consciousness; it both accompanies solemn and joyous celebrations the world over (Fanfare for the Common Man) and punctuates the familiar words “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner!” (Rodeo) for millions of television viewers.

Copland was the youngest of five children born to Harris and Sarah Copland, Lithuanian Jewish immigrants who owned a department store in Brooklyn. He did not take formal piano lessons until he was 13, by which time he had also begun writing small pieces. Instead of attending college, Copland studied theory and composition with Rubin Goldmark and piano with Victor Wittgenstein and Clarence Adler, and attended as many concerts, operas, and ballets as possible.

In 1921, he went to Fontainebleau, France, taking conducting and composition classes at the American Conservatory. He went on to study in Paris with Ricardo Viñes and Nadia Boulanger and spent the next three years soaking up all the European culture, both new and old, that he could. He learned to admire not only composers like Stravinsky, Milhaud, Fauré, and Mahler, but others such as author André Gide. Boulanger’s performance of Copland’s 1924 Organ Symphony with Koussevitzky was the beginning of a friendship between the conductor and composer that led to Copland teaching at the Berkshire Music Center (Tanglewood) from 1940 until 1965.

After his return to America, Copland drifted toward an incisive, austere style that captured something of the sobriety of Depression-torn America. The most representative work of this period — the Piano Variations (1930) — remains one of the composer’s seminal efforts. He tried to avoid taking a university position, instead writing for journals and newspapers, organizing concerts, and taking on administrative duties for composers’ organizations, trying to promote American music.

By the mid-1930s, taking the direct engagement of and communication with audiences as one of his central tenets, Copland’s compositions developed (in parallel with other composers like Virgil Thomson and Roy Harris) an “American” style marked by folk influences, a new melodic and harmonic simplicity, and an appealing directness free from intellectual pretension. This is nowhere more in evidence than in Copland’s ballets of this period, and it finally earned him the respect of the general public.

While Copland gradually became less prolific from the mid-1950s on, he continued to experiment and explore “fresh” means of musical expression, including a highly individual adoption of 12-tone principles in works like the Piano Fantasy and Connotations for orchestra. Still, the fundamentally lyrical nature of Copland’s language remained intact and occasionally emerged — with an often surprising retrospective air — in works like the Duo for flute and piano (1971). He continued to teach and write and received numerous awards both in America and abroad.

In 1958, he began conducting orchestras around the world, performing works by 80 other composers as well as his own over the next 20 years. By the mid-’70s, Copland had for all intents and purposes ceased composing. One of the last of his creative accomplishments was the completion of his two-volume autobiography (with musicologist Vivian Perlis), an essential document in understanding the growth of American music in the twentieth century.

AMG Bio – Zubin Mehta

by Joseph Stevenson

Conductor Zubin Mehta was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), Maharashtra state, India on April 29, 1936. He is an adherent of the Parsi religion. His father was Mehli Mehta, a violinist who was the founder and conductor of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra. At the age of 18, after considering a career in medicine, Zubin entered the Vienna Academy of Music, learned to play the double bass in order to join the Academy’s orchestra, and took conducting lessons from Hans Swarowsky. He graduated from the Academy in 1957 and made his professional debut in Vienna, guest conducting the Tonkünstler Orchestra.

In a London appearance in 1961, Mehta became the first Indian to conduct a major British orchestra. A victory in the first international conductors’ competition organized by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra led to a one-year appointment as their assistant conductor. After completing his year-long tenure, Mehta was engaged to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and made another important and successful guest conducting position with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Guest appearances with the Montreal and Los Angeles symphonies both led to permanent positions; in 1960 he became music director in Montreal and associate conductor in Los Angeles. Thus Mehta became one of the first of a new breed of conductors sometimes called the “jet set,” who are able to maintain two (or even more) principal conductorships of major orchestras by means of frequently flying between the cities involved.

Mehta’s accomplishments in Los Angeles, where he became musical director in 1962, were particularly striking. In just a few years he was able to turn the lackluster ensemble into one of the nation’s finest orchestras, and, still under 30 years of age when he was appointed, he became the youngest music director of any “major” U.S. orchestra.

An exuberant, extroverted performer and person, he possessed a genuine star quality; soon, he conducted the orchestra on a notable series of excellent recordings for London (Decca) Records. Mehta made his operatic debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on December 29, 1965, and in 1967 he resigned his position in Montreal, and forged a new relationship with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, eventually becoming its chief music adviser in 1970. In 1971 he conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic on the soundtrack of Frank Zappa’s film 200 Motels.

In 1978 he resigned his Los Angeles post to succeed Pierre Boulez as music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. After the rather ascetic, ultra-modern Boulez, Mehta’s interest in lush Romanticism, and a more traditional repertoire made for a favorable impression, and a long and successful relationship with the orchestra. However, by the time of his resignation in 1991, a little of the bloom had faded from his relationship with the critics, some of whom seemed to be put off by the more “Hollywood” aspects of his style and personality.

 

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