Xiayin Wang: American Piano Concertos
Premiered in 1927, Copland’s Piano Concerto was described by one critic as ‘a jazz dance hall next to a poultry yard’, by another as ‘a harrowing horror from beginning to end’. Today the only passages that raise an eyebrow are Copland’s jejune attempts to assimilate jazz rhythms into his musical vocabulary (he himself admitted in a 1985 interview, ‘Actually, I wouldn’t know how to write a real jazz piece’). Nevertheless, he and Leonard Bernstein make these completely convincing in their 1964 recording. Oundjian is too literal here, often making Copland sound like bad Gershwin (or a send-up of it). His woodwinds are in a different part of the sound picture to the piano, disengaged from their dialogue with the soloist. Both recordings boast suavely lyrical accounts of the serene first movement.
Barber’s electrifying and athletically awesome Concerto (1962) opens the disc. You only have to hear the soloist’s first entry to know that in Xiayin Wang you have a virtuoso with all the power and pizzazz to encompass the work’s demands – and more. She leads from the front, with Oundjian giving the percussion and brass sections their head. It’s an exhilarating ride which does not relax its grip from beginning to end – and the Chandos sound packs a real punch. The same goes for the Gershwin Concerto. Occasionally you wish for a little more heart from the soloist, but then you get it – touchingly so – at the end of the slow movement. This is a fine, detailed and stylish account of this much-recorded work that can sit confidently among the best.