- Billy the Kid, ballet
- Appalachian Spring, complete ballet (original version for 13 instruments)
- Rodeo, selections from the ballet
Following up on their Grammy-winning Stravinsky album, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francsico Symphony look homeward with a recording devoted to three of Aaron Copland's most popular works: "Billy the Kid," "Appalachian Spring," and "Rodeo." It shouldn't surprise anyone that Tilson Thomas, a dynamic advocate of 20th-century music and a brilliant conductor of dance music, crafts superb interpretations of these quintessentially American ballets. But unlike most maestros -- such as Leonard Slatkin, whose high-voltage performances of these scores are now available on a budget-priced two-CD set -- Tilson Thomas's approach to these much-played scores is exceptionally refined. The recording is titled "Copland the Populist," but it could just as accurately have been called "Copland the Colorist." Tilson Thomas's meticulous attention to detail demonstrates that the composer was not just a vivid orchestral painter, but a remarkably subtle one as well. The opening of "Appalachian Spring" sounds so dewy-fresh that every note seems to glisten. "Billy the Kid" is grandly dramatic, as befits this tale of the Wild West, but it's the quiet moments -- the images of vast prairies, big skies, and lonely souls -- that are most memorable. Even the "Hoedown" from "Rodeo," a pops concert staple, has a glittering vibrancy worthy of Debussy (despite the hearty "yee-hahs" of the San Francisco musicians). The orchestra plays with flair and finesse throughout, and RCA's recording is as expansive as Copland's musical landscapes.