Copland Piano Fantasy; Piano Sonata; Piano Variations

Fiery performances in a bargain set of three notable Copland works

Author: 
Lawrence Johnson

Copland Piano Fantasy; Piano Sonata; Piano Variations

  • Piano Fantasy
  • Sonata for Piano
  • Variations

Aaron Copland’s three major piano works span the most productive decades of his life, taking us from the austere rigour of the 1930 Variations to the Sonata’s lyric introspection and the epic visionary scale of the 1957 Fantasy.

Benjamin Pasternack shows a clear ease and affinity. In the Variations he brings out the tensile angular beauty and surely assays the shifts from withdrawn solace to rhythmic swagger. Though the bravura sections are rendered more as a toccata-like scherzo than with high-flying virtuosity, he plays with command and force. The close balance emphasises the shallow piano but provides a keen, edgy brilliance, suiting Copland’s preference for a sound that is ‘lean, percussive and rather harmonically severe’.

Pasternack is also in sync with the Sonata’s taut poetry, moving fluidly from cool austerity to bursts of agitated virtuosity. Some of his Molto moderato seems literal and unfocused, yet the ensuing acceleration goes with plenty of syncopated verve. He shows fine sensitivity in the searching Andante finale, though the brusque fractional impatience doesn’t relax enough to convey the hopeful expectancy so key to Copland’s world. The Fantasy originated in sketches for a second concerto planned for William Kapell. Again, the nostalgic pages could benefit from a lighter touch and more spacious approach, yet Pasternack keeps firm forward momentum and interest aloft over the long span.

On the whole, Pasternack’s brawny performances have the requisite fire and responsiveness and this Naxos disc offers a notable and economical way of picking up all three fascinating Copland works.

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