…All of the music is taken at a thoughtful pace and is quite lyrical and melodic. Copland often sounds as if he is thinking aloud yet each of his "musical sentences" flows logically into the next one, forming a suite of sorts. The results could be superior background music but, if played at a louder volume, one can really get into Copland's thoughts and ideas. This is thought-provoking music that deserves that close a listen. ~Scott Yanow, allmusic.com
This programme features concert music by composers who also wrote film scores for Hollywood. While this was just one string to the considerable bows of Gershwin and Copland, Bernard Herrmann and Franz Waxman are best known for their music for Hitchcock films (Vertigo, North by Northwest, Marnie and Psycho for Herrmann; and Rebecca and The Paradine Case for Waxman). Centre stage is Gershwin’s Song-book, arranged by the composer for solo piano in order to present the songs ‘as George Gershwin plays them himself’.
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.
Strauss sits alongside Mahler as a leading conductor – as well as composer - of his age, winning plaudits and support even before the age of 20 from contemporaneous luminaries such as Hans von Bülow. In fact between them, Mahler and Strauss controlled the two most powerful opera houses in the world in their mid-Thirties, with Strauss in Berlin and Mahler in Vienna.
For anyone interested in the music of Brahms, the conducting of Furtwängler, the history of performance traditions, or simply in hearing great music being made in a uniquely personal way, this set is essential.