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American Piano Concertos
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Piano Concerto, Op. 38 (1962) [27:40]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Piano Concerto (1926) [15:39]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Concerto in F (1925) [31:53]
Xiayin Wang (piano)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Peter Oundjian
rec. Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 11 February 2013 (Gershwin), 29-30 April 2013 (Barber, Copland) DDD
CHANDOS CHSA5128 [75:44]

The three American piano concertos on this disc were all influenced to greater or lesser degrees by jazz and represent the best of the genre in twentieth-century America. I do not think they have ever appeared together on a CD before, so this release is perhaps unique in having them all together. If only the performances were as remarkable as the programme, there would indeed be something worth celebrating.
 
Xiayin Wang, who completed her studies at the Shanghai Conservatory before coming to New York in 1997, where she received accolades for her performances at Carnegie Hall, is an accomplished pianist. Her solo performances on CD have garnered considerable praise. However, this first concerto disc is a disappointment. Whether it’s the lack of chemistry between her and the conductor and orchestra, or that she was simply not ready to record these works, it is hard to say. Technically, her pianism is fine, but there is little fire or pizzazz here. All one needs do is to turn to the truly outstanding accounts of the three concertos.
 
In the case of the Barber, no one has equalled, let alone surpassed, John Browning’s premiere recording with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra recorded in 1964. Even Browning when he re-recorded the concerto with Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony lacked the dynamism of his first account. Strangely enough, that first recording to my knowledge was never released in the US in CD format, but is available in the UK along with definitive performances of other Barber works, including Isaac Stern and Leonard Bernstein’s wonderful performance of the Violin Concerto (review). The sound on that disc is beginning to show its age, but the performances are ageless.
 
As to the short jazzy concerto by Copland, again Bernstein with the composer at the piano is the one to beat. In modern sound, Lorin Hollander with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony are also very impressive. There is much competition for Gershwin’s Concerto in F, including André Previn as pianist and conductor (review) , Garrick Ohlsson with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting (review) , and the classic Earl Wild/Arthur Fiedler recording (review).
 
Wang and Oundjian come nowhere near any of the above, but are best in the slow movements of the Barber and Gershwin. Their laid-back approach works better there than in the outer sections of the two concertos. The second movement of the Gershwin is a case in point with an especially fine trumpet solo that seems just right, bringing out the blues without going over the top as is sometimes the case. Greater presence in the recording itself may have helped, too, but whatever the reason, for the most part, these performances fail to catch fire.
 
I listened to the disc with my usual two-channel setup, so perhaps surround sound would create a greater impression. However, I am convinced that the problem lies largely with the performers and not the recording.
 
The Chandos presentation is, as usual, classy, with a booklet that includes good notes and a number of photographs. Unless you want everything the pianist has recorded or have to have this particular programme on a single disc I would take a pass on this one.
 
Leslie Wright