IVES Violin Sonatas Nos 1-4
When a star such as Hilary Hahn takes on the Ives violin-and-piano sonatas it has to be special. These four works came at the peak of Ives’s composing career, in the years around the First World War. He had reservations about the Third Sonata because he felt he’d weakened after a professional violinist criticised his dissonant, unplayable music. The Fourth is a curiosity because Ives quotes some of his father’s own music in the first movement, and it took Ives back to his own childhood.
Recordings of these sonatas started with 78s but the most authoritative, after some years of playing them from memory, was an LP with Daniel Stepner and that great Ivesian John Kirkpatrick on Musical Heritage in 1982. There have been several since. Today the competition for Hahn comes from Curt Thompson and Rodney Waters (Naxos, 9/04). Thompson did a doctorate on these pieces so knows his Ives, and the performances are thoroughly idiomatic, sometimes wayward, but with magical, transcendental soft passages.
In comparison, Hahn may have less tonal variety but she and Lisitsa, accurately balanced, are completely efficient in every way. They understand the Ives idiom, saturated with hymn-tunes; they swing with the best of them; and their performances are as convincing as anything on offer.