Dennis Russell Davies

Copland: Appalachian Spring; Nonet for Strings; Two Pieces for String Quartet

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Originally released in 1990 on the MusicMasters label, this reissue of St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble under the direction of Dennis Russell Davies includes one of Copland's most instantly recognizable compositions -- the Suite from Appalachian Spring -- alongside two of his least frequently heard works, the Nonet for Strings and the Two Pieces for String Quartet. The size of St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble poses immediate problems in its performance of Appalachian Spring. The group has but four total violins, two violas, and cellos, respectively, and one player on each remaining part. The resulting sound is, to say the least, thin. Listeners who have heard this piece performed by a full orchestra (as it was originally premiered) may find this anemic version rather dissatisfying. For the remaining chamber works on the program, these smaller numbers become a non-issue, but other technical difficulties present themselves instead. Chief among these problems is intonation, and for a piece like the Nonet, which dabbles in serialism and polytonality, the sometimes unbearable intonation certainly does not help gain any fans for this late Copland composition. The Two Pieces for String Quartet suffer from sloppy intonation, as well, but to a slightly lesser degree. It's startling that Davies, whose career has been largely centered on making "difficult" pieces accessible to the average listener, would let performances like these slip through his fingers. Although recordings of the Nonet and Two Pieces are few and far between, this album is probably one to pass on.

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