Monday, December 08, 2008

The mystery conductor is . . . composer Aaron Copland -- plus the promised further musing on Candide


Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland in 1945

by Ken

Yes, the conductor of our mystery performance of Leonard Bernstein's Candide Overture is the composer's longtime friend and mentor, the distinguished American composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990).

Now unless you happen to be familiar with the recording, I don't suppose there was really any way of guessing it. One hint was that it's not a relatively recent recording, and no, it's not. It's from a 1973 Prague concert of mostly American music (in addition to Candide, Copland's own Inscape and Billy the Kid, Ives's Unanswered Question, William Schuman's New England Triptych -- plus Half-Time by the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu, who had taught alongside Copland at Tanglewood in the '40s), with the fine Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. I don't know what other forms this concert may have been released in, but what I found is a CD called "An American in Prague," issued in the U.K. in 1993 on the Romantic Robot label.

Of course we're more used to hearing Bernstein conduct Copland. Wouldn't it be fair to say that, with the possible exception of the composer himself, Bernstein was the most effective conductor of Copland's music? Certainly the most influential, since most of the composer's own recordings of his music were made after his reputation, and the music's, were established.

Because of the close connection between the two men, there's purely sentimental value in this unusual instance of "Copland Conducting Bernstein," but I really think the performance is special in its particular way. Another official hint was that the orchestra doesn't seem to know the piece well, which might have suggested a non-American one. As I suggested, though, there's something special about hearing the Czech Phil be drawn by the conductor into the spirit of the piece.

Also, as I mentioned, I've never heard anyone bring this unaffected sweetness to the Overture's first real tune, which in the show itself is the duet "Oh, Happy We" between our impossibly innocent hero, Candide, and the object of his wild and apparently mutual infatuation, Cunegonde. The music tells us that they are as one in their shared rapture. However, the words (by the principal original lyricist, the poet Richard Wilbur) tell us that, like so many couples in the throes of infatuation, although in perhaps slightly extreme form, neither young lover is hearing the beloved one's heart's desires with absolute clarity:

CANDIDE: Soon, when we feel we can afford it,
We'll build a modest little farm.
CUNEGONDE: We'll buy a yacht and live aboard it,
Rolling in luxury and stylish charm.
CANDIDE: Cows and chickens. CUNEGONDE: Social whirls.
CANDIDE: Peas and cabbage. CUNEGONDE: Ropes of pearls.

(The Candide here is tenor Paul Groves, and the Cunegonde, soprano Kristen Chenoweth. This is from a 2005 series of staged concert performances with the New York Philharmonic under Marin Alsop, also available on DVD.)

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At 8:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL...Pretty sure of yourself there KenI:)

I am not that familiar with that version. I have an old Time/Life version of Overtures:
Great Moments of Music featuring Arthur Fiedler and Boston Pops, well I knew it wasn't Arthur.

I want to thank mom and dad as well as teh of the consolidator blogs showed TIMES 4:51 when I gave up on my fantasy of Zappa...Copland made sense anyway.

I choose the freaky Adam art, surprise me. Howie has my address. ( IF Adam did the last Michele Bachman demon I would love that: if not he can sign it anyway>:-)>

At 10:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Thanks Ken for a most enjoyable game!

At 7:06 AM, Blogger Charles D said...

Thanks for all the attention to Bernstein and to Candide. I grew up on the NY Philharmonic Young People's Concerts - on commercial broadcast television! Can you imagine that today?

I also had the joy of attending the 1974 Broadway revival production of Candide which was unforgettable.

Also, is that Prague concert CD still available anywhere?

At 12:14 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Bil, the Fiedler version is definitely one of the really good ones -- or actually two, I think, since as memory serves (not all that well these days, really) he and the Boston Pops did it again during the time when they were recording for DG.

No, Democracy Lover, I haven't been able to find any current listing for the Copland Prague concert. If I find out anything more, I'll pass it on.


At 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thx KenI, did you see my question on the first post about if you can hear much of a difference between vinyl and the CD, MP3's?

Here's the linkee I found with the times etc.

At 12:14 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Hey, Bil, I did catch up with your query, and after congratulating you on what seemed to me the inspired guess of Zappa (before you resorted to your naughty Plan B), I wrote:

"On the vinyl issue I'm totally with you too. I have a "6 eyes" (i.e., early) pressing of the LP, which sounds really fabulous. I wouldn't expect a CD to be able to duplicate that sound, so I don't even hope for it. The Sony CD reissue sounds pretty darned good, though -- for a CD."

As for MP3, it certainly has its uses, especially if you're using the higher-quality standards, but better-than-bare-bones audio quality isn't one of them. MPEG4 is certainly a major improvement, but still not a serious audio format.


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