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Symphony 3 / Quiet City Import
Late in his career, Leonard Bernstein returned to the greatest orchestral work by his lifelong friend, Aaron Copland, with a performance that eclipsed all others, including Bernstein's own previous recording of the Symphony no. 3 on Sony. Though Copland's stock still hadn't climbed back to its present height, Bernstein gave the music a grandeur that made you forget how much of a cliché the Fanfare for the Common Man--which was worked into the finale of the Third--can be. In fact, many of the world-stopping qualities Bernstein brought to his second Mahler cycle for Deutsche Grammophon seem much in evidence here, with the New York Philharmonic playing as though its collective life depended on it. --David Patrick Stearns
His third symphony is one of his most famous works, due to the inclusion of the "Fanfare for the Common Man" in the fourth movement. Originally written as a separate work, the fanfare was conceived to pay tribute to the American soldiers as they were fighting the evil Nazi empire in Europe. The success of this work influenced the composer to reuse the material in his symphony. Although this movement is truly heroic in nature, the climax in the symphony is very varied. The first movement (molto moderato) is a quiet and peaceful one, starting with the strings. The second movement (allegro molto) is a dynamic piece that is close to a scherzo, with a trio. The third movement (andantino quasi allegretto) is a joyful, free-flowing piece conceived with the flute as the center of the piece. The forces of the orchestra are reduced to only the strings and a section of woodwind instruments. It leads without interruption to the fourth movement (Molto deliberato - Allegro risoluto) which comprises the fanfare. After its majestic opening, new thematic elements are introduced in the second part of the movement, before the fanfare comes back with the whole orchestra for the grand finale.
The recording concludes with "Quiet City", a 10-minute work for trumpet, English horn, and orchestra. As its title suggest, Copland tries to represent the setting of a quiet city at night. He may or may not have been inspired by the night in New York City, although this is the first impression I had while listening to this piece for the first time, picturing myself looking at the Empire State Building at night. No doubt that the New York Philharmonic feels so much at home while they perform this music!
Woodwinds start the first movement followed by strings. The tune which starts the symphony is reminiscent of the American landscape and spirit. Copland's music symbolizes the picture of American farms, cowboys and the American way of life. There is heavy brassy contrapuntal treatment and uses trademark Copland single tune apparently simple themes which grow more complex. The 2nd movement is the brilliant set piece of the whole symphony. A brilliant brass section and violin with extensive contrapuntal treatment; this is a beautiful exhibit of colorful orchestration of great vibrancy and welcome complexity - orchestration feels a bit like Shostakovich. The movement towards the last one third springs to life with a beautiful completely new theme suddenly coming out of thin air. A theme of great beauty - all made of clear straight lines in my mind's eye but together makes this beautiful web of sound. There is a brilliant recapitulation of this (second)theme sounding like shimmering lights in the river ending in a powerful and beautiful personification of Americana - in the fields & in the ranches. The Third movement starts as andante and transforms into a dance theme in allegretto of delicateness - like thin wisps of snow falling on the trees; follows, rigorous and muscular working in strings and woodwinds. The last movement starts with the "fanfare to the common man". This has become a staple theme music of several TV programs. We have all listened to this theme at some point. The theme in it's few notes personifies grandeur and majesty. This tune transforms into a kind of contrapuntal semi fugue on a new theme of the most brilliant inventiveness. Makes me in shock and awe of Aaron Copland. Then the fanfare is again recapitulated but now with the 2nd theme being played simultaneously. A variation on this second theme in woodwinds follows - delicate and free spirited. There are modulations and variations on themes, fast and enthralling dance like structures with complex contrapuntal writing.
It took me three hearings to finally grasp the essence of this complex piece. Much more complex than the suites - Billy the kid, Rodeo or Appalachian springs. It is basically music of the same spirit as his aforementioned suites (creates similar mental states) but written with the seriousness and structure apt to the symphonic form. Bernstein conducted this when he was older. I can imagine earlier recording being faster in tempo. In his later years Bernstein tempo and interpretation became more measured. However, this is a wonderful CD. Great purchase.
As an aside, the DG sound is all one would expect; very clean, clear and crisp.
Album is focused and awesome and Copland with a definitive recording by legendary Bernstein. Who could ask for anything more? Well, except a redo of 2016, amirite?