Recent Reviews for “American Classics:”
“The superb musicianship and flexible virtuosity Lori Sims reveals both in recital and in her off-the-cuff masterclass keyboard demonstrations manifest themselves throughout this release. She captures the Copland Variations’ stark and stern idiom with wide dynamic contrasts and strong rhythmic focus. By contrast, Sims positively devours the Barber Sonata, yet is smart enough to remember to chew well and savour the music when appropriate, such as in her straightforward and well-sustained Adagio mesto. Her perky, characterfully accented Fugue and delightfully leggiero Scherzo count among the best on disc, while the Allegro energico’s opening pages have rarely conveyed such a combination of ferocity and longing.”
“American pianist Lori Sims was Gold Medalist at the 1998 Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, and has since performed with distinction in the U.S. and abroad. She brings all her expertise to bear on the present program of “American Classics.” That includes her feeling for the style, rhythm, and contour of the music she plays, and especially the utter precision with which she sounds each note cleanly and with the utmost clarity. That last-named quality is important because three of the four composers heard on this program – Aaron Copland, Ben Weber, and Samuel Barber – are revealed here as exponents of serialism (12-tone or otherwise). “What difference does that make to me?” the average listener may ask. “How would I know if the pianist dropped an occasional note here or there?” Believe me, pal, you’d know! This type of music is so tightly structured that it is highly unforgiving of error by the executant. Copland’s Piano Variations (1930) uses the tone row E, C, D-sharp, C-sharp as the basis from which the entire composition derives. Since it may also be interpreted tonally as a statement in C-sharp minor, there is an ambiguity here, which Copland explores through the length of a very intense 11-minute work. Sims is highly cognizant of its generally somber mood, as well as the way in which individual variations flow into one another without clearly demarcated lines between them. Weber, like Copland, shows both American and European influences in his music. In his 1946 Fantasia, Op. 25, he uses serialism for expressive purposes. As annotator Barry Ross explains it, “Weber employed as far as possible the language of Romanticism, dispensing with the angular melodic motion of European serial music.” [Aside: I’m always amused at the way annotators will go out of their way to assure the nervous listener that “After all, it isn’t as bad as Schoenberg.”] Bringing out the unique character of Weber’s music isn’t easy, but Lori Sims does it with economy and style. Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata in E-flat minor (Op. 26, 1949) is one of the most difficult works in the modern American canon to perform. Serial melodic fragments are expressed within the context of traditional sonata form. Shifting rhythmic patterns and highly dissonant chord progressions, contrapuntal technique that is not just restricted to the final movement (which is a fugue in four voices, and a strongly accented one at that) combine with the overall dark, serious mood of the work to demand the utmost concentration from Sims and the application of every aspect of her technical skill. Contrasted to the rigors of the other works heard on this program, we have Roman Sketches by the short-lived Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920). Griffes remains the principal (almost the only) American proponent of Impressionism. Consisting of four pieces in the style of tone poems (several have, in fact, been successfully orchestrated and performed as such), the Sketches have a breadth that extends beyond the keyboard, as their titles indicate: The White Peacock, Nightfall, The Fountain of the Acqua Paola, and Clouds. Sims takes pains to express the character of each of these pieces: the languid movement of the peacock and its distinctive chain of notes, the clouds slowly drifting to a point of disappearance in the gradually deepening blue of the sky at dusk. As opposed to the high energy of most of the music on this CD, the Griffes pieces are slow, unhurried, and listeners are given plenty of white space between tracks to meditate on the beauties they’ve just heard.
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, May 2013
“This is a special recording in many ways. First, it includes works from the summit of American piano compositions. Aaron Copland’s 1930 Piano Variations is modernist and yet has found a secure place in the pianist’s repertoire. The Fantasia (Variations) of Ben Weber, written in 1946 and dedicated to pianist William Masselos, has points of reference with the Copland in that it is quasi-serialist as well. Sims, so to speak, hits it out of the park. This is a very special, wide-ranging performance that emphasizes both the work’s mysticism and lyricism.
The much earlier American impressionist, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, is represented with the four pieces of his Roman Sketches (1915). Best known are The White Peacock and the Fountain of the Acqua Paola, lusciously played here. The other two pieces are the darkly evocative Nightfall and the ethereal Clouds. Sims is truly in her element here. Her delicate touch, nuanced phrasing and expert pedaling make these memorable.
Finally, there is Samuel Barber’s magisterial Piano Sonata (1949), which was premiered and recorded by Vladimir Horowitz. Sims’s performance faces stiff competition, recordings by Horowitz, Cliburn, Hamelin and Browning among others. But she holds her own. The whirling fugal finale is a little more gentle than some recordings but it shines a new light on the movement.
I’m giving this recording four stars, but really wish I could give it four-and-a-half. I’ve downgraded it from a five-star rating because I don’t particularly care for the Copland, but don’t let that stand in your way of hearing it.
One side note: I found a review of a recital Sims gave in New York two years ago that contained precisely this program and the reviewer raved about how good the Copland was. So, at the very least there is some difference of opinion about her performance of it.”
Scott Morrison, Amazon.com, Feb 15, 2013