You have to have a lot of faith in an orchestra to open proceedings with something as challenging as Copland’s Appalachian Spring suite. This is no warm-up for what follows; there is nowhere to hide; and you therefore need an ensemble at the very top of its form from opening bar to last. So… perfect for the Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra, then! And they were perfect for it, too: special praise going to the athletic percussion section (who would not be allowed to even think about relaxing until the interval) and flautist Catherine Billington… – and, of course, one of the greatest brass sections this side of Brighouse. But every single player deserves as much commendation – if only for the number of tears shed throughout. (Yes, I know I am a soppy bugger: but the instant creation of such matchless atmosphere would surely have softened the sternest heart. This really was that remarkable.)
David Curtis’ whole modus operandi stands atop a steadfast foundation of trust and such faith: the attention paid to his every gesture – however subtle – shaming more complacent orchestras (and conductors). But it is from this unassailable bedrock that all the other magic grows: including the uncanny ability to transport an audience as one in space and time. Early 19th-century Pennsylvania has never sounded – or felt – so appealing.
Copland’s ballet is, for me, one of the man’s (and the American century’s) greatest accomplishments: a masterpiece of subtle portrait and landscape painting that I don’t think he ever really surpassed (although Rodeo – to be played by the CSO in July – comes close for wit and bravado; but not, I think, quite the tenderness, the poignancy, found here…). And, no matter how many times I hear it, it maintains its freshness; its inventiveness. But it has to come from the heart (meaning courage and boldness; as well as emotion and compassion). Like this did….