It is a mark of the growing worldwide recognition of twentieth century American music, particularly piano music, that non-Americans are now recording works from this vast storehouse. Not too long ago French super-virtuoso Pierre-Laurent Aimard recorded Charles Ives's 'Concord Sonata' (as well as accompanying mezzo Susan Graham in some of Ives's songs) to universal acclaim. This 2CD collection by English pianist Peter Lawson also contains a couple of works by Ives (his 'One Page Sonata' and the Sonata No. 1) as well as representative sonatas by Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, Samuel Barber, Charles Tomlinson Griffes and Roger Sessions, major composers and major compositions all. I will admit that I had never heard of Lawson until fellow Amazon reviewer David Bryson brought him to my attention. These performances were originally issued in the early 1990s on two discs available separately (and a few of them are still available here at Amazon). This 2CD collection is issued at budget price and is worth every penny of it. Bryson, by the way, has written a review of Volume One, the one that contains the Copland, Ives 'Three Page Sonata', and the Carter and Barber sonatas. It can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00000DNU0/ -- I have little to add to Bryson's insightful remarks about the contents of CD 1 except to add that I know of other recordings of the Barber Sonata (aside from that of Horowitz, its dedicatee) that are on a par with Lawson's. Perhaps the point is that Lawson is on a par with the recordings of Van Cliburn and John Browning. That is very high praise indeed.
The only sonata here that was previously unfamiliar to me is the Sessions 'Second Sonata.' I have not generally sought out music by Roger Sessions. Although I have admired its craft I have had trouble, often, relating to much of it. But the second sonata is a real prize, at least partly because of the inventive uses of rhythm in the outer movements and the spare but emotionally engaging slow middle movement. Lawson plays it, as he does throughout these two CDs, as if he utterly believes in and loves this music. And that in spite of his being what Bryson has called -- and I would agree -- an intellectual (perhaps a better word would be 'thoughtful') pianist. The Ives First Sonata has been recorded a number of times, perhaps most notably in the RCA recording by William Masselos (who premièred it) and one on Collins Classics by another fine but sometimes erratic British pianist, Joanna MacGregor. Lawson's approach to the sonata presents to full advantage Ives's gauzy reminiscences of American folk songs and hymns as if he had known the originals all his life. The two ragtime-y movements are played a sparkle in the eye.
Griffes, whose 1917 sonata is not as well-known as it should be, died tragically young at thirty-six. He was America's primary impressionist but by 1917 he had broken with that style and the sonata is a moderately dissonant, non-programmatic work which does not partake, as his earlier works did, of rhapsodic construction. Rather, this strong three-movement work has two outer movements that are in sonata-allegro form. Lawson not only grasps the formal aspects of the sonata, but presents it flawlessly as the abstract monumental work it is. This is the best performance I've ever heard of the sonata.
The bottom line: these two CDs present superb performances of some of the most important twentieth-century American piano sonatas in sensitive, technically and musically assured performances captured in lifelike sound. And all at a super-bargain price.