BARBER AND COPLAND PLAYED TO PERFECTION

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DELOS has just released a nicely assembled collection of Barber and Copland piano pieces impeccably played with fierce commitment and intensity by the American pianist Sean Kennard.

Titled American Classics Barber and Copland the Delos release (DE 3554) is good to look at and pleasurable to the ear. Kennard is an impressive technician, fleet and agile, yet capable of obtaining massive climaxes from his instrument with steely gravitas.

The choice of repertory is interesting, avoiding the tried and true, and revealing a darker aspect of Samuel Barber as shown in the composer’s Sonata for Piano, Op.26, written in 1949 by the then mature Barber and given its world premiere by Vladinir Horowitz, no less, who asked for a flashy fourth movement and got it. The Sonata for Piano and the 1977 Ballade are both complex works that open up to the musical language of dodecaphony.

With both those two works, written three decades apart their composer turned the corner into a world of dissonance where he remained well into the latter part of his career. With his earlier opus, Excursions Barber seems to be more at ease in a distinctly laid-back and utterly charming American musical landscape.

Copland’s Piano Variations dates back to 1930 and clearly show the influence of Paris-based composers whom Nadia Boulanger encouraged Copland not to imitate but study, which the composer proceeded to do with a vengeance. Massive cluster chords and a martellato use of the lower and upper registers alternate with moments of delicate lyricism in this composition.

The Four Piano Blues are miniatures dedicated to or else inspired by friends of the composer are brought to life with their bluesy, jazzy, vaporous sound by Sean Kennard’s at times delicate at others commandingly sonorous playing.

Typical of DELOS, the engineering is spot on, the accompanying notes succinct and insightful and the packaging simple and well designed.

Rafael de Acha

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