COPLAND:  Appalachian Spring. Suite from  Billy the Kid.  Philadelphia Orch/Eugene Ormandy, cond.    Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo.  El Salón MÈxico. Dallas Symphony Orch/Eduardo Mata, cond.
BMG/RCA 63312  (M) (ADD)  TT:  76:16  


Keeping up with the latest technology, BMG/RCA  has been  releasing a series of older recordings remastered with "24/96 technology," a process that enables engineers to capture more of the original sound of these older recordings than ever was possible before.   All well and good, and  items thus far issued surely do sound better than ever before.  The point is that unless the original recording is of high quality,  "24/96 technology"  makes little difference.  I recall Chuck Gerhardt's telling me many years ago that he and George Korngold, who produced many Gerhardt recordings both for the Reader's Digest and RCA, were  approached by a producer  in RCA's New York studios.  He  wanted them to listen to a recording and tell him what they thought of it.  They went into a studio and a master tape was played of Tchaikovsky's PathÈtique.  When asked their opinion, they said it sounded like a rather successful attempt to  electronically emulate  stereo on an older monophonic recording. Needless to say, this did not go over well with the producer.  This  actually was one of RCA's first recordings  under their new contract with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of many to be made for the RCA after the orchestra  switched from Columbia in 1968 after a quarter-century of recording for that label.

Columbia realized the difficulties of recording in Philadelphia's Academy of Music and made few recordings there.  Victor did make some superb-sounding 78 discs in the Academy with Leopold Stokowski conducting and it does seem rather strange that it was difficult to record there stereophonically.  Later when EMI/Angel began to record the Philadelphians they, too, looked for other sites, but even then were not successful in capturing the rich sounds of this magnificent orchestra.  Decca/London EMI and Philips  also had problems.

This new "High Performance" CD contains two Copland works recorded by Eugene  Ormandy and the Philadelphians  1969.  The sound is thin, lacking in resonance and dynamic range  The famed Philadelphia string sonorities are missing. There is little presence and I suspect  artificial reverb was added to try to compensate for the Academy's dryness. The result is not satisfying.  Also on the CD is more Copland with Eduardo Mata and the Dallas Symphony recorded in 1978 in Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas.  RCA is considerably more successful here from a sonic standpoint, and  these performances are idiomatic.  But far superior Copland collections are to be found elsewhere. There are still quite a few magnificent Chicago Symphony  recordings yet to be released on CD (particularly performances conducted by Morton Gould and Jean Martinon, and a major Reiner performance not issued on CD: Rolf Lieberman's dazzling Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra recorded in 1954).  These deserve "High Performance" treatment much more than this Copland issue.