GREAT AMER­I­CAN SONATAS

BBC Music Magazine - - INSTRUMENTAL -

Works by Bern­stein, Co­p­land, Ives and Har­ri­son

Nathan Wil­liamson (pi­ano)

Somm SOMMCD 0163 78:19 mins

Ap­ply­ing the ad­jec­tive ‘great’ to ev­ery Amer­i­can sonata here seems an act of in­or­di­nate kind­ness. But the word cer­tainly suits Co­p­land’s rugged and vi­sion­ary work, com­pleted in 1941 af­ter years of writ­ing pop­ulist Amer­i­cana. Bol­stered by the record­ing’s in­ti­mate, warm acous­tic and wide dy­namic range, Nathan Wil­liamson, an ex­cel­lent pi­anist, adds a touch of ro­mance to the most granitic dis­so­nances, though some­how that never saps the Sonata’s strength. He’s es­pe­cially good at sus­tain­ing the work’s slow and spa­cious land­scape vis­tas – qual­i­ties in short sup­ply in Bern­stein’s stu­dent Sonata of 1938, a clever but brit­tle piece strain­ing too au­di­bly for sig­nif­i­cance.

Corseted by its de­lib­er­ately lim­ited range of in­ter­vals, Lou Har­ri­son’s Sonata No. 3 from the same year of­fers un­usu­ally lit­tle light re­lief.

But his 1937 Largo Osti­nato makes wel­come amends with five min­utes of solemn balm, pre-echo­ing this agree­able com­poser’s later world mu­sic ex­plo­rations with its ori­en­tal turns of phrase. Amer­i­can hurly-burly bounces back in Ives’s chaotic Three-page Sonata, tossed out by Wil­liamson with mus­cu­lar power. He’s most mem­o­rable of all, though, in the quiet rem­i­nis­cences tex­tured into The Ce­les­tial Rail­road, re­worked from the ‘Hawthorne’ move­ment of Ives’s Con­cord sonata

– a demon­stra­bly great sonata, that. Maybe there will be a vol­ume two with that work? Ge­off Brown

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