Eduardo Mata's recording of the epic Third Symphony of Copland is one of the very best performances of this work on record. Bernstein recorded this symphony twice: first in the 1960s for Sony and later, a live performance from Dec. 1985 for DG, both with his NY Philharmonic. Both performances are excellent but the later performance is the best performance this work has ever had. That 1985 performance emphasized the grandeur of the work, its large-scale setting, its self-conscious attempt by Copland to be the "great American symphony." It is also extremely exciting and it has the NY Philharmonic playing on the edge of their seats and the orchestral virtuosity is astounding. The 1960s recording was also very exciting but not so grand, big but not quite epic. It also comes with what to my ears is one of the most atrocious pieces of music ever composed, Copland's Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, about which Walter Damrosch declared that if a man in his twenties could write a piece of music like that, he'll be ready to commit murder within 5 years! While obviously a joke, it says a lot about the impression the work makes on the listener and I therefore would not recommend the Sony Copland Third for that reason alone.
Although the 1985 Bernstein DG is a must if you even remotely appreciate this symphony, Mata's May 1986 recording for EMI is an essential alternative approach. Mata does not underline every single grand passage and does not exaggerate any of the climaxes, making it sound somewhat understated when compared to the 1985 Bernstein. But Mata succeeds in making the music exciting and bold without exaggeration and he is especially good at bringing out the simplicity of the lyrical aspects of the symphony in a manner superior to Bernstein. The Dallas SO does not play with the virtuosity of the 1985 NY Phil, but it plays on the same level as the 1960s NY Phil and sounds even better than Slatkin's St. Louis orchestra, Levi's Atlanta orchestra, Judd'd New Zealand orchestra and even Oue's Minnesota orchestra. The recorded sound is outstanding, definitely superior to the 1985 DG recording, where the strings glare and there is an overall glassiness to the sound. Only Oue has better sound than Mata, but Mata's performance is far superior. (Jarvi's Detroit performance is the worst one on record and is to be avoided, while Judd's excellent recording on Naxos will not disappoint, especially if on a budget.)
This CD also comes with Danzon Cubano, played with just the right amount of verve and punch, and El Salon Mexico, which is not given the red-blooded reading that Bernstein gave it in 1951 with the NYPO on Sony (together with Copland's own performance of his Piano Concerto, with Bernstein conducting), but is instead played as a light and humorous work, which is perhaps how Copland intended it. Mata's El Salon, like his Copland Third, is a great alternative to Bernstein's reading, even if it does not exceed it in excitement. If you are a fan of Copland or of Eduardo Mata's recorded legacy, you should not be without this CD.