Aaron Copland wrote some of the most tuneful and popular music written in the twentieth century. Many admirers of his ‘popular’ scores such as his cowboy ballets are not aware that he also wrote ‘serious’ music whose twelve-tone serialism was in complete contrast with not a hint of a tune to be heard. These ‘serious’ works were written both at the beginning of his career and also at the end. The piano music on this disc all falls into this category and none offers any hint of his popular style. None the less, these works have some of the stylistic features as the more accessible scores.
Raymond Clarke is very much at one with modern music and although his repertoire includes Mozart and Schubert he has recorded music by Panufnik, Shostakovich and Webern. He plays the works on this disc with intensity and conviction and writes notes on the music which demonstrate his dedication to this music. The disc starts with Passacaglia (1921-2), dedicated to Nadia Boulanger and written when he studied with her in Paris – it is a fascinating work which becomes clear upon repeated hearings as does also the Piano Variations of 1930 with its dramatic pauses and resonances which are described in the notes as vindictive and spiteful.
The Piano Sonata (1939-41) is in three movements of which the last, andante sostenuto, is the longest and most interesting with, as played here, the listener hanging on to every note – remarkable tension. The last piece, the Piano Fantasy (1955-57), is the longest. It incorporates elements of serialism within an essentially tonal style. It is a fascinating piece and the hardest for the listener of the works on the disc.