San Francisco Symphony / Michael Tilson Thomas

Ives: Holidays Symphony; Copland: Appalachian Spring

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Michael Tilson Thomas' fondness for and dedication to American music is well known and much admired, and many of the recordings he has made over four decades demonstrate how deep and abiding is his affection. Unfortunately, this release featuring a 2005 performance of Charles Ives' Holidays Symphony and a 2007 performance of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring are not among his best work. The Holidays Symphony sounds very long, very dull, and not very well held together; the opening "Washington's Birthday" is gray and flaccid, and the concluding "Thanksgiving and Forefather's Day" is flabby and interminable. Better is the original 13-instrument version of Appalachian Spring; Tilson Thomas invests some light, some color, and some movement in the proceedings. Oddly, the work sounds not just more acerbic in its more leanly scored version, it sounds positively aggressive. Some of the fast dances sound more like they come from West Side Story than from Appalachia; strangely without emotional affect, the slower dances, particularly the variations on the Shaker hymn, sound almost enervated. Though there are no mistakes here -- Tilson Thomas clearly knows what he's doing and the San Francisco musicians would surely follow him to hell and back -- there is not much to recommend, either. The sound is two-dimensional and gritty.

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