Barber, Copland, Carter

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COMPOSERS: Barber,Carter,Copland
WORKS: Piano Sonata, Op. 26
PERFORMER: John Owings (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7622-2
What does ‘The American Piano’ sound like (leaving aside jazz)? On the evidence of this CD, much like the American orchestra – that’s to say full of vast rugged sonorities, suggesting colossal skyscrapers, wide open prairies, and a heroic pioneer energy. The three sonatas on this disc all date from the Forties. Samuel Barber’s piece is impressively craggy and ambitious, and completely overturns the dignified, elegiac image of Barber we get from his famous Adagio. Hearing the Copland and the Elliott Carter sonatas together is a fascinating experience; you can hear Carter taking Copland’s vocabulary of huge, bell-like sonorities and fanfare-like figures, and giving them a radical new twist. John Owings plays all three sonatas with tremendous flair. He’s equally at ease in the quicksilver wit of the scherzo in the Barber, and in those long passages of vast stillness in the last movement of the Copland. Owings can conjure the required massive sonority from the piano without ever sounding heavy-handed. Pacing is everything in the latter two pieces, especially in the Carter sonata which unfolds by fits and starts and can sound aimless – but Owings always keeps a sense of forward momentum. The recording is admirable, clear enough to hear those amazing harmonics in the Elliot Carter, but without being fussily close. Ivan Hewett