Michael Tilson Thomas

Copland the Modernist

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Aaron Copland may well be the best-known, the most loved, and the all-around greatest of twentieth century American composers, but his music from the '20s and '30s is still relatively unknown, still relatively unloved, and of still questionable greatness. Was Copland the Modernist too far out to connect to a big audience so he re-created himself as Copland the Populist to become the best-known, most loved, and greatest American composer? But was his Piano Concerto from 1926 really too jazzy and vulgar, his Symphonic Ode from 1928 really too cerebral and severe, his Piano Variations from 1930 really too harsh and austere, and his Short Symphony from 1934 really too rhythmic and complex or was it lack of familiarity made them seem so? From this 1996 recording by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, one would have to vote for the latter because Copland the Modernist is every bit as great a composer as Copland the Populist. With virtuoso pianist Garrick Ohlsson on the Piano Concerto, Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco perform Copland's vulgar, cerebral, harsh, and complex music with ease, assurance, and extraordinary panache, making it sound as brilliant, as beautiful, and as endearing as any of his later Populist music. RCA's digital sound is as brilliant as the performance, with plenty of detail and depth.

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