Copland, "Rodeo," "El Salon Mexico," and "Danzon Cubano." Performed by the Baltimore Symphony, David Zinman conducting (Argo 440 639-2): This disc of Copland works features beautiful playing by the Baltimore Symphony, gorgeous recorded sound (though it may be too brilliantly detailed for some listeners) and precise, elegant conducting by Zinman. The problem for this listener is that it is too precise and too elegant. Works such as "El Salon Mexico" that should create a sense of spontaneity and improvisation come off sounding too predictable to be completely effective. Compare Zinman's "El Salon Mexico" with Leonard Bernstein's versions (on Deutsche Grammophon and Sony); the Bernstein performances have a sensual languor and a dangerous sense of the unexpected that make much more compelling listening. I don't remember Zinman conducting Copland -- though he may have -- back in his Rochester Philharmonic days. I suspect that this is a case in which a contract obliged the conductor to play pieces that he does not find congenial. Why this conductor is recording Copland when he has yet to record a symphony by Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven -- composers he performs with genuine insight and originality -- is one of the minor insanities of the music business.
Brahms, Piano Concerto No. 2, Rachmaninoff, "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini." Performed by pianist Van Cliburn and the Moscow Philharmonic, Kiril Kondrashin conducting (RCA Victor 09026-62695-2): Now that Cliburn has resumed touring -- his first tour in more than 16 years opened Monday evening in Los Angeles and will conclude late in August at Wolf Trap -- RCA has seen fit to release these 1972 performances from Moscow (the Brahms is live and the Rachmaninoff was made in the studio) that have never been available commercially outside the former Soviet Union. Returning to the scene of his 1958 triumph in the Tchaikovsky Competition always brought out the best in Cliburn, and it cannot be denied that the 22-year-old performances on this CD are often better than those the pianist was producing at that time in his own country. But the glorious tone that Cliburn produced then (and presumably still produces) does not entirely offset suggestions of an alarming decline in powers for a pianist only 38 at the time. The first movement of the Brahms, for example, is appreciably slower than in the pianist's recording with the Chicago Symphony and Fritz Reiner about 10 years earlier. Cliburn always played with what corresponded musically a charming Southern drawl, but the playing here -- while quite accurate -- is slower because the pianist's efforts are labored. Kondrashin, who was a great conductor, and his orchestra cope valiantly, if not always successfully, with the pianist's shifts in tempo and lapses in concentration. Like the playing in the Brahms, that in the Rachmaninoff is characterized by beautiful tone, exquisite lyricism and expansive grandeur -- and by occasional lapses. The pianist's version of the work, recorded at about the same time, with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra is a better sustained performance that
offers far superior recorded sound.
HEAR THE MUSIC
To hear an excerpt from Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini," performed by Van Cliburn and the Moscow Philharmonic, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6190 after you hear the greeting.