Barber: Piano Sonata; Nocturne, Op. 33; Coleridge-Taylor: Deep River; Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child etc. Gershwin: Three Preludes etc. Plus works by A Beach, Copland and Wild
Isata Kanneh-Mason (piano)
Decca 485 1663 60:43 mins
Isata Kanneh-Mason’s second album may take its title from Gershwin’s beloved Porgy and Bess hit, but it is Barber’s Sonata that stands out in this diverse programme of American pieces for solo piano. Commissioned to mark the 25th anniversary of the League of Composers, the 20-minute work was premiered by Vladimir Horowitz in 1949. Barber’s Sonata has little in common with its native contemporaries (such as Ives, Carter, Copland and Cage), owing more to Chopin, Fauré and even Scriabin. Kanneh-Mason brings drama and energy to the contrapuntal second movement and spiky closing fugue. Landmark recordings by Horowitz and Van Cliburn have since been supplemented by two from Leon McCawley (Warner Classics and SOMM), who notably played the Sonata in the 1993 Leeds Piano Competition, taking second prize. It’s an incredible class: Kanneh-Mason manages to hold her own.
You wait for a new release of Earl Wild’s wonderful Gershwin transcriptions and then two come along in consecutive months: whereas Vittorio Forte recently recorded the Seven Virtuoso Etudes in their entirety (Odradek, 2021), Kanneh-Mason has focused on Nos 2 and 6 (‘Summertime’ and ‘I Got Rhythm’). Both are beautifully represented, supported by Gershwin’s Three Preludes and Grainger’s arrangement of ‘The Man I Love’. The dizzying virtuosity is offset by a measured performance of Amy Beach’s 1925 miniature By the Still Waters.
Among the four pieces by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is a premiere recording of the lyrical Impromptu No. 2 in B minor, a slight but significant addition to the repertoire. Kanneh-Mason’s controlled phrasing and shimmering tone is exquisite.