Sean Kennard: American Classics
Sean Kennard’s assertive plunge into the Barber Sonata’s exposition sets the tone for the pianist’s excellent grasp of the opening movement’s forceful lyricism. His fingers are sufficiently supple to handle the Scherzo’s playfully intricate patterns, although his phrase tapering slightly dissipates the rhythmic sparkle and airborne lightness one hears from pianists such as Earl Wild (Ivory) and Joel Fan (Reference Recordings). Kennard builds the third-movement Passacaglia from the bottom up in a long, steady and admirably sustained arc, albeit without the dynamic tension of Horowitz’s classic reading or the gravitas of John Browning’s second recorded version. He takes the fugal finale at a precipitous clip to the point where the accented notes and syncopations lose some of their stinging impact, and even rush ahead at times.
The same can be said for the last of Barber’s four Excursions, where the repeated notes fly by with little consequence. The blues movement stiffly ambles in Kennard’s hands, while the Allegretto proves loud and heavy in contrast to Israela Margalit’s superior legato control and fluidity (Warner). On the other hand, Kennard truly internalises the harmonic richness and narrative sweep of Barber’s Ballade, channelling his considerable technique towards musical ends. His use of the pedal proves especially adroit and ear-catching, notably in the winding down of the big climax (2'20") right before the main theme returns.
Kennard brings out the languid and rhapsodic qualities in the first three of Copland’s Four Piano Blues well (I prefer Lara Downes’s more sensual and dynamically contrasted interpretations – Arkadia), along with an appropriately lean and dry approach to the final piece’s jazzy off-beat phrases. A dry and percussive touch befits the spiky sound world of Copland’s Variations, yet it needn’t be so unvaried and monotonous as Kennard makes it out to be. By contrast, Gilbert Kalish’s Nonesuch recording presents Copland’s austere aesthetic with a higher level of pianistic character and timbral variety. As you’ve probably gathered, the undeniably gifted Kennard faces tough catalogue competition.