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John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, January 2017

Under Lara Downes’s sure-handed guidance, each song takes on its own character, no matter how familiar the material. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s take on spirituals, “Deep River,” is poignant and touching; Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy” (in an arrangement by Nina Simone) never sounded more heartfelt; Howard Hanson’s waltz-lullaby “Slumber Time” sounds appropriately dreamy but never overtly sentimental; Joplin’s “Gladiolus Rag” doesn’t jump off the tracks with its early jazz-time verve but remains firmly rooted in the American spirit of aspiration, ambition, and accomplishment. And so it goes, every selection begging one to listen to it again and again. It’s a quite magical album.

Like all of the discs I’ve reviewed from Sono Luminus, this one sounds excellent. The piano is almost literally in the room with us, ringing out clearly yet opulently, with just the right amount of ambient hall resonance to enrich its nature. Insofar as audiophile piano music goes, it’s a treasure. © 2017 Classical Candor Read complete review

Donald Rosenberg
Gramophone, January 2017

It takes an exceptional and elastic pianist to do justice to arrangements by stellar predecessors, and Downes proves more than up to the job in Art Tatum’s sophisticated version of Berlin’s ‘Blue Skies’ and Nina Simone’s impassioned take on Gershwin’s ‘I loves you, Porgy’. …Downes treats every piece with requisite flair, intensity or sweetness. Hughes might have considered her artistry to be dreamy, and who’s going to argue? © 2017 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Lou Fancher
San Francisco Chronicle, December 2016

Among the CD’s treasures are familiar works: a lovely, aching rendition of Shenandoah; Harold Arlen’s wishful, wispy Over the Rainbow; the simple dignity of Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s arrangement of Deep River; Nina Simone’s tender take on George Gershwin’s I Loves You Porgy.

Arguably, the CD’s gem is African-American composer Florence Price’s Fantasie Negre. …Downes’ nuanced performance pays a deserved tribute. © 2016 San Francisco Classical Voice Read complete review

Tom Huizenga
National Public Radio, December 2016

A Year Of Listening Desperately: 10 Classical Albums That Saved 2016

Lara Downes’ powerful album America Again isn’t so much an escape as a revealing look in the mirror. In a year that provided heated debates on what defines America, Downes reminds us just who we are, a nation of diverse voices and experiences. The astutely programmed album offers solo piano music by American composers past and present, male and female, white and black and brown, straight and gay, rich and poor. You can hear the richness of difference in Nina Simone’s reflective arrangement of Gershwin, Amy Beach’s take on Native American rhythms, Morton Gould’s mischievous syncopations and the swaying of Angélica Negrón’s gentle lullaby. The album, with music by more than 20 composers, is capped with an unsentimental performance of our national anthem of hope and dreams, Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow.” © 2016 National Public Radio

James Manheim, December 2016

[Downes] brings a consistent tone to widely varied music, and the sound from the Sono Luminus studio is superb. But the truly cutting-edge program is the biggest attraction here. Highly recommended. © 2016 Read complete review

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, December 2016

Lara Downes does a marvelous job making of this music a pianistic triumph. To her we must tip our collective hats in appreciation. For the music wears wonderfully well in her hands. Bravo! © 2016 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review Read complete review

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, December 2016

…a collection that features the extremely talented pianist Lara Downes. Beautifully played and superbly recorded, the programme celebrates everything that’s good about America; this seems especially important at such a tumultuous time. © 2016 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, November 2016

Downes kicks off with the multi-talented Morton Gould’s American Caprice, which she describes as a mixture of ‘sweetness and sass, bluster and blues’. And goodness, how accurate that proves to be. Downes is a lively, confident player and she brings out the shifting moods and perky rhythms of this piece very well indeed. The recording is crystal clear and pleasingly present, with every nudge and nuance perfectly conveyed. As for Lou Harrison’s three New York Waltzes they’re characterised by a disarming simplicity and directness that’s eminently engaging. Indeed, that last comment applies to the pianist, too.

For me the highlight of this collection is Downes’s haunting—and very beautiful—rendition of Shenandoah. It actually moved me to tears, such is the ache and poise in every bar. It’s so well paced and proportioned, and for the first time I found myself in a rare state of immersion—of heightened sensitivity—that’s more typical of live concerts than recordings. Downes is the real magician here, but the gorgeous sound certainly helps. This is the kind of piano recording I dream about, where all artifice melts away and the pianist is right there in the room, playing for me and me alone. Quite extraordinary (and not a little spooky). © 2016 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Lisa Flynn
WFMT (Chicago), November 2016

Inspired by Langston Hughes’s poem Let America Be America Again, this new recording by pianist Lara Downes features music that explores different facets of the elusive but essential American dream. Downes plays music by Bach, Bernstein, Copland, Ellington, Gershwin, Gould, Joplin, and others. © 2016 WFMT (Chicago)

Textura, November 2016

…Downes is the consummate musician, a pianist who blends taste, technique, and feeling into a total package. Throughout this encompassing portrait, she demonstrates a sensitivity of touch and command of tempo and dynamics that distinguish her from others; she moves from the intensity of high drama to the hush of romantic intimacy with ease, and further to that, possesses a natural feel for when to hew to a theme and elaborate upon it. From bravura set-pieces to heartfelt miniatures, Downes’ elegant playing consistently resonates with affirmative purpose. © 2016 Textura Read complete review

Jon Sobel
Blogcritics, October 2016

In performances of consummate artistry, Downes gives us concise but feeling interpretations of songs and short pieces by many of America’s greatest composers. The sources come from the mingled worlds of popular music, jazz, and what we call “modern classical” music but is better thought of as artistically sophisticated concert music that can also, as in these instances, have popular appeal.

With warm tones, subtle rubatos, and finely calibrated harmonic development, Downes’s arrangements convey many colors of American musical traditions and creativity… © 2016 Blogcritics Read complete review

William J. Zick
AfriClassical, October 2016

…a very personal album. Downes seems to share some deeply felt connections with her materials. This artist…invokes a careful selection of short piano pieces steeped sometimes in jazz and blues but also the political directness (and optimism) which was characteristic of the inter-war years that brought forth the Hughes poem. There is both sadness and celebration in these virtuosic and technically demanding little gems. The pianist’s comments on each individual piece are also critical to the understanding of this disc as she shares the impact and meaning that the music has had for her.

Downes is well acquainted with a large variety of American music and recognizes no distinction between classical and so-called “vernacular” traditions. © 2016 AfriClassical Read complete review

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