Ives Violin Sonatas, Nos 1-4

Native feeling for the idiom and no mean virtuosity give this duo the Ivesian edge

Author: 
Peter Dickinson

Ives Violin Sonatas, Nos 1-4

  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 4, 'Children's Day

The four violin and piano sonatas are at the core of Ives’s chamber music output. The style oscillates because Ives was uncertain about his more radical visions and admitted that he had tried to compromise. But this gives all four of them an enlarged frame of reference, saturated with quotations as usual, but relating to European sonata traditions as well.

In reviewing ECM’s Hansheinz Schneeberger and Daniel Cholette, I indicated problems that European performers can have with Ives. Compared with Gregory Fulkerson and Robert Shannon they failed to swing and their recorded sound is unattractive. There’s no problem with the Texan-born Curt Thompson, who has delved deeply into Ives in a doctoral thesis on these sonatas. He and Rodney Waters make an excellent duo.

A good test for the three recordings is the second movement of No 3. Cholette’s piano sound is tinny, Waters’s rhythm lacks drive in the ragtime idiom, but the Fulkerson duo has it all. At the climax of the last movement, Fulkerson takes the double-octave option, which helps the violin to cut through the texture, but Thompson doesn’t because this emendation came from Sol Babitz as editor and not from Ives.

Unfortunately Fulkerson and Shannon’s fine performances are on two full-priced CDs whereas Thompson/Waters are at a fraction of this price on Naxos in its splendid American Classics series. There is everything to savour from the newcomers: lovely soft textures in the transcendental meditations, well recorded, and everything hectic is under control. Warning: the distant violin in the second movement of No 1 is not a balance fault – Ives specified that the pianist should overwhelm the defenceless muted violin! This is now the version to choose but what a pity we had to wait six years from the recording date.

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