IVES Piano Sonata No 2. Violin Sonata No 4
For all its fearsome reputation, whether technically or conceptually, Ives’s Concord Sonata has built a sizeable discography such that any addition needs to have something new or arresting.
As with his account of Ligeti’s Piano Concerto (4/17), Joonas Ahonen’s formidable pianism is much in evidence. He coaxes a formal clarity from the seething prolixity of ‘Emerson’ and evinces deft humour in the increasingly reckless abandon of ‘Hawthorne’. Yet his underlying impersonality rather detracts from the fervency of ‘The Alcotts’, while his take on ‘Thoreau’ has a limpidity but also coolness that makes this most inward of finales seem aloof rather than otherworldly. The outcome is a reading which appreciates the extent of Ives’s transcendental musings in no small measure but is less attentive to its corresponding emotional depths. On the plus side, the brief viola and more substantial flute interpolations are affectingly rendered.
The coupling, too, is teasingly provocative. Composed just before his most intensive work on the Concord, the Fourth Violin Sonata finds Ives at his most personable and disarming, what began as a piece for his nephew merging with his love for New England hymn tunes in music whose modest duration belies a profundity comparable to that found in equivalent works of Ravel. Pekka Kuusisto and Ahonen recognise this with an account as poised as it is probing.
Both Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s bolder projection and Alexei Lubimov’s idiosyncratic though absorbing exploration convey more of the Concord’s expressive essence, while Hilary Hahn and Valentina Lisitsa place the violin sonata in a more orthodox yet no less fitting context as part of their distinguished traversal of all four sonatas. Those attracted by this coupling, finely recorded and informatively annotated, can be assured the rewards outweigh the reservations.