Album Reviews

Aaron Copland – The Gift To Be Free

UK release date: 11 August 2003


The first two volumes of the Black Box ‘Voices’ series have given us valuable insights into the songs of Arnold Schoenberg and settings of the poet Paul Verlaine.

This next edition sees Radio 3’s Iain Burnside accompanying the Somerset soprano Susan Chilcott in Aaron Copland’s most significant output for voice and piano.

This means that we have an English singer performing Copland’s sets of Old American Songs. Yet when the songs receive sharp characterisation, as they do here, this isn’t as much as a problem as it may appear.

Highlights are the jaunty stop-start of The Boatman’s Dance and the hilarious I Bought Me A Cat, where Chilcott is called to impersonate duck, pig hen, cat and goose amongst others! The two sets of these songs bookend the disc, with Copland’s weighty Emily Dickinson settings in-between.

The Dickinson pieces are exercises in light and shade, with the optimism of Going To Heaven countered by the unnerving I Felt A Funeral In My Brain, dominated by Burnside’s menacing accompaniment figures. At other times though the piano was placed a tad too far back in the recording balance.

Burnside then performs the Four Piano Blues, and there are also short settings of Aaron Schaffer (Night), ee cummings (Poet’s Song) and the Pastorale, all beautifully done. Ending with the second set of American Songs, Chilcott’s most substantial contribution is In The Golden Willow Tree, a sea song despite its title.

So it’s three out of three for Black Box in this series, with special praise to Iain Burnside for his part in the series, an offshoot of his Tuesday afternoon radio programme. Hopefully, there will be more to come.


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