Great American Sonatas – Bernstein: Piano Sonata; Copland: Piano Sonata; Harrison: Piano Sonata No 3, Largo Ostinato; Ives: Three-Page Sonata, The Celestial Railroad

Reviewed on Fri 05 May, 2017

Aaron Copland’s urgently variegated Sonata benefits from boldly expansive playing while also confronting often bleak detail head on.

If the sonata represents the piano repertoire’s proverbial Everest, Nathan Williamson’s intelligently vivid recital suggests there is more than one way to scale its vertiginous heights. All four featured composers share the same soil but bring very different sensibilities to bear. Aaron Copland’s urgently variegated Sonata benefits from boldly expansive playing while also confronting often bleak detail head on. Caught between impetuosity and introspection, Leonard Bernstein’s youthful Sonata receives, in turn, muscular and measured treatment, as does Lou Harrison’s meticulously structured, tightly controlled Third Piano Sonata, Williamson taking the finale’s 'very slow, very singing and solemn' marking at eloquent face value. There’s a shared sense of concentrated stillness in the stark, simple beauty of Harrison’s Largo Ostinato (later re-worked as the slow movement of his Third Symphony). Completing the programme are two pieces by Charles Ives: Williamson slowly unwinding the Three-Page Sonata before igniting it into blazing signature bravura; The Celestial Railroad’s fantasy prompting glinting, concrete-hard poetry.
–Michael Quinn