Rodeo, originally called The Courting at Burnt Ranch, is unique in the extent to which Copland used many traditional American folk tunes practically intact – incorporated for their nostalgia and sense of place, not to mention that they are wonderful songs. It tells the tale of a tomboyish Cowgirl who vies for the attention of the Head Wrangler – a simple tale meant to showcase great dancing, great buffoonery and great music.
Barber’s hauntingly exquisite Violin Concerto is one of the very finest of the last century. Of all instruments, the violin may be closest to the human voice, and this is how Barber employs it, maximizing the instrument’s warmth and intimacy. It sings passionate lines in the opening two movements – the andante is one of the great lyrical outpourings in American music, demonstrating Barber’s command of the long, lush melodic line – before delivering a whirlwind of triplet rhythms in the fast-paced finale.
Mussorgsky’s musical wander through a fictitious gallery of works by his friend Victor Hartmann is a beautifully curated series of miniatures – some intimate, others grotesque. The piano originals are vivid in the way rhythms and harmonies are used to evoke the visual images, but in Ravel’s masterful orchestration, they are made even more so.