One thing America did not lack during the 20th century was superb pianists. The works in this program by two of the greatest American composers were created in response to the vast talent at their disposal: Samuel Barber’s Excursions and Piano Sonata were written for Vladimir Horowitz and his Ballade for the Van Cliburn Competition, while each of Aaron Copland’s Four Piano Blues was dedicated to a particular pianist: Leo Smit, Andor Földes, William Kapell and John Kirkpatrick. Copland’s knotty and taxing Piano Variations was taken up by a young composer/pianist named Leonard Bernstein.

While Excursions and the Four Piano Blues use various aspects of musical Americana they remain sophisticated examples of the art of two distinctive musical minds. Barber’s Sonata of 1949 is one of the finest piano works of the century: the final movement, a spirited and sparkling fugato, seals the deal. His late Ballade (1977), conceived in the throes of depression, is deeply moving. Copland’s 12-tone Piano Variations represent the very pinnacle of the composer’s tough, modernist thinking.

Well, America still produces superb pianists and one is Sean Kennard, whose first recording this is. (He studied at Juilliard with Boris Berman and Richard Goode.) Not only is Kennard’s technique flawless, his understanding of the music’s expressive requirements is second to none – and that includes Horowitz, who recorded Barber’s Sonata. This marvellous debut disc is a triumph.

Composer: Barber, Copland
Composition: Piano Sonata, Excursions, Piano Blues
Performer: Sean Kennard p
Catalogue Number: Delos DE3554

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