Ives (A) Song - For Anything
Ives, so Calum MacDonald’s admirable notes tell us, wrote in all about 200 songs – more, that is, than the 114 he published privately in 1922. That in turn is far more than we usually hear in concerts, though amazingly 114 is exactly the number of songs listed in the current catalogue. On the other hand, I find no disc devoted exclusively to Ives – until this new and more than worthy edition.
First, to the artists. Gerald Finley has made many excellent records and, as far as I can recall, never a poor or indifferent one. But if he is not by this time universally recognised as a singer of the front rank, this should leave no doubt of it. These songs can encourage at one extreme a rough declamatory style and at the other an almost voiceless intimacy. Without in any way underplaying, Finley is always essentially a singer – his tone and command of the singing line are a pleasure in themselves. But he also has the absolute mastery of the composer’s idioms and, with Julius Drake, his fearless and totally committed pianist, the technical, virtuosic skills to realise his intentions with (amid all the quirks) complete conviction of naturalness.
This is a selection that very satisfactorily balances early and late, rumbustious and contemplative. Several of the early German settings are included, always beautiful and always developing with some touch that is entirely personal. Of a quite distinctive beauty are those like Remembrance, Berceuse, and The Housatonic at Stockbridge where voice and piano work a dreamy, misty spell. And still more characteristic are the settings of his own verses evoking memories of childhood. The ‘character’ songs (such as Charlie Rutlage) and the ‘big’ numbers (General William Booth Enters into Heaven) become less prominent than they commonly seem in a recital group where they are programmed as an effective tour de force. The total impression is of an astonishing individuality and, more importantly, of a completely honest, dauntless and increasingly to be valued musical identity.