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Copland Piano Music: Romantic and Modern
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Copland Piano Music: Romantic and Modern
Ramon Salvatore, piano
Cedille Records CDR 90000 021

"Salvatore's performances are very impressive. . . . His performance of 'The Cat and the Mouse' is the most convincing I have ever heard . . . The recording is excellent, with the piano sound full, rich, and transparent. This recording is, of course, a must for Copland fans, who will find it satisfying and even revelatory. Others, however, should also enjoy this beautifully crafted, superbly played music." (Fanfare)

While studying composition in New York, Aaron Copland composed a Romantic-style piano sonata in the grand manner. After nearly 75 years, his Sonata in G Major (1921) receives its performance and recording premieres by Chicago pianist Ramon Salvatore.

On this CD, Salvatore presents an unusually complete stylistic survey: the high Romanticism of the Sonata in G Major, Copland's early flirtations with French impressionism and jazz, the classic Americana for which he's best known, and his bold modernism. Unlike other Copland piano discs, Cedille's includes only original piano works (no transcriptions), performed with clarity and imagination by a leading exponent of American piano music.

Composed at the behest of his traditionalist teacher Rubin Goldmark, Copland's Sonata in G Major is his most ambitious early work. "It demonstrates a familiarity with and mastery of traditional form and harmony that is impressive," writes composer Philip Ramey in his notes for the CD booklet. Ramey was a close friend and associate of Copland.

Pianist Salvatore says the German-Romantic style piece offers "all the elements that attract pianists and audiences to this kind of music" and could become a genuine audience-pleaser like Charles Ives' similarly backward-looking First Symphony. "I invite the listener to decide," Salvatore says.

Sonnet II (1919), a 27-bar miniature, is a sonorous, post-Impressionistic piece performed for the first time in 1985. The Cat and the Mouse (1920) caused a falling out between Copland and Goldmark over the "modernism" of its erratic rhythms and French impressionist veneer. The witty little piece became Copland's first published work. Three Moods (1921) marks the first appearance of jazz in Copland's work.

Serious, abstract, carefully articulated -- yet emotionally stirring -- Copland's Passacaglia (1922) shows the influence of composition teacher Nada Boulanger, who stressed control and clarity.

Copland insisted that the sweetly pastoral miniature Down a Country Lane (1962), commissioned by Life magazine, had nothing to do with a country lane. "I didn't think up the title until the piece was written," he said. Ramey discovered Copland's exquisite bagatelle Midsummer Nocturne (1947) while foraging through his friend's files in 1977. It premiered in Cleveland in 1978.

The sternly challenging Proclamation (1973/82) and soothing Midday Thoughts (1944/82) are Copland's last works in any genre. Both are based on sketches for never-completed works. Proclamation was originally intended as a large-scale piano piece. Midday Thoughts dates back to Copland's Appalachian Spring period and shares the ballet's sweet temperament.

The generous survey concludes with the fascinating Piano Fantasy (1957), Copland's most complex and virtuosic work for solo piano. He wanted it to suggest "a spontaneous and unpremeditated sequence of 'events' that would carry the listener irresistibly (if possible) from first note to last." Influence by 12-tone technique but fundamentally tonal, the work was commissioned by the Juilliard School of Music to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Click here to download the CD booklet.

Click the Cedille Player at the upper left to hear excerpts from the tracks highlighted in red below. These have been carefully chosen as representative of the recording program.

PROGRAM (77:00)

AARON COPLAND (1900-1990)

Sonata in G Major (1921) (22:22)
World Premiere Recording
1. I. Allegro maestoso (11:16)
2. II. Andante cantabile (5:57)
3. III. Allegro vivace (5:00)

4. Sonnet II (1919) (1:23)

Three Moods (1921) (4:18)
5. I. embittered (1:16)
6. II. wistful (1:46)
7. III. jazzy (1:10)
8. The Cat and the Mouse (1920) (3:25)

9. Passacaglia (1922) (6:52)

10. Down a Country Lane (1962) (1:59)

11. Midsummer Nocturne (1947) (1:54)

12. Proclamation (1973/82) (2:04)

13. Midday Thoughts (1944/82) (2:38)

Piano Fantasy (1957) (29:25)
14. I. Slow
15. II. Rubato
16. III. Beginning a little slowly
17. IV. Quite fast and rhythmic
18. V. Suddenly Fast
19. VI. As at first

Recorded: December - February, 1994 - 95 at WFMT Chicago / Producer: James Ginsburg / Engineer: Bill Maylone / Cover: East River from the Shelton (Georgia OKeeffe, 1928) Private Collection. Photo by Malcom Varon, NYC. / Design: Cheryl A Boncuore / Notes: Phillip Ramey