Arthur Fiedler was a long-time conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, a symphony orchestra that specializes in popular and light classical music. With a combination of musicianship and showmanship, he made the Boston Pops one of the best-known orchestras in the United States of America. Fiedler was sometimes criticized for over-popularizing music, particularly when adapting popular songs or edited portions of the classical repertoire, but he kept performances informal and sometimes self-mocking to attract a bigger audience.
The three Copland classics on this disc–Billy the Kid, Appalachian Spring and Rodeo–are all ballet scores, and from the very first bars of Billy, with its evocative depiction of the wide-open prairies, you are firmly in the territory of music that tells a story. But you don't need to follow all the ins and outs of each story to enjoy music which paints as vivid a picture of rural America as you could hope for. If the sprightly "Hoe Down" from Rodeo brings a splash of colour to concert programmes, the remarkable thing about so much of the music in these three pieces is how quietly sensitive it is. And while Michael Tilson Thomas does not hold back in wringing every last ounce of splashy razzmatazz, he is equally the master of introspective music which clearly demonstrates that you don't need to be loud to be a populist. The recordings were made in the San Francisco Symphony's home, Davies Symphony Hall. You couldn't hope for more authentic performances than this–more than 76 minutes of dyed-in-the-wool Americana.
Gustav Mahlers 8th Symphony breaks the boundaries of the symphonic form in a world-embracing gesture. Riccardo Chailly is one of the staunchest performers of this work, and therefore it seemed appropriate in many ways that he chose this work for his inaugural concert as Claudio Abbados successor and new music director of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. The artistic statement was combined with a deeply personal conviction: it should be a 'tribute to Claudio', the highly esteemed friend and colleague to whom Chailly, as he emphasizes, owes very much. On 12 August 2016, Claudio Abbados unfinished Mahler cycle with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra was completed in a breathtaking performance of the Mahler 8th, simultaneously heralding in a new era in Lucerne.
Here's a Symphony of Psalms that successfully captures the spirit and letter of the work–reverence, jubilation, and celebration, as well as specifics of orchestral color and texture. Boys' voices–supposedly Stravinsky's original choice–contribute their share to the bright choral timbre, an effect that works very well. We also get first-rate performances of the Mass and the rarely recorded Canticum sacrum.