Aaron Copland composed at the piano and was a proficient enough player to do his own music full justice. His total output for the instrument is slight, yet the keyboard works represent Copland's stylistic range more comprehensively than his works in other genres – from the early, jazz-tinged miniatures and wistful Four Piano Blues to the monumental proportions of the Piano Fantasy and the Sonata.
These 1978 recordings by the composer's long time friend and collaborator Leo Smit were highly acclaimed when first released on LP, and quickly became collector's items. They are even more so now as sonically upgraded for CD, together with seven additional pieces taped by Smit in 1993 for this reissue. The pianist may lack the rhythmic incisiveness and fire he once brought to some of these scores: compare, for instance, his world première recording of the Sonata from 78s with this altogether gentler remake. Yet Smit's massive sonority and flexible lyricism convey the rugged grandeur of Copland's sound world with appropriate austerity and tenderness. I only regret that a piano tuner was not on hand to fix those foul notes persisting throughout the Fantasy.
Philip Ramey's excellent annotations are carried over from the original LP issue, supplemented by a perceptive and affectionate essay by producer Thomas Frost on the subject of Smit's multifaceted career. In sum, this release does both composer and erstwhile interpreter proud. A labor of love for all concerned, and worthy of space in any serious 20th century collection.
Copyright © 1996, Jed Distler