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This superb recital shines like a beacon, illuminating the differing styles of Copland, Bernstein, Lou Harrison and Ives. And although the Copland Sonata and Ives’ Three-page Sonata have not lacked for recordings, the Bernstein Sonata (composed in 1938 when he was 19) and Lou Harrison’s Third Sonata are rarities. More obvious choices (notably the Barber Sonata) are avoided.

If Gershwin is the voice of urban America, then Copland is the voice of rural America, of vast open spaces and the great outdoors. (How Nadia Boulanger must have loved his austere neoclassicism: Copland spent three years studying in Paris at what became affectionately known as ‘the Boulangerie’). Here severity and economy alternate with hyper-activity (the central Vivace) in one of Copland’s supreme masterpieces. Bernstein’s less ambitious Sonata is more easily accessible yet again his overall austerity and rarified idiom repay frequent listening; a far cry from the manic chatter of, say the Piano Concertos of Peter Mennin or John Corigliano.

Lou Harrison’s studies with Schoenberg, Henry Cowell and John Cage are subsumed in a more refined style, while Ives’ instantly recognisable soundscape, coming from a wild jumble of sources, derives from an endearing desire ‘to knock the mollycoddles out of their boxes and to kick out the softy ears’. The Celestial Railroad ends with what I can only describe as sublime, unresolved chaos.

All these works are given by Nathan Williamson with unerring mastery. Finely recorded, few more impressive discs of American piano music exist.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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