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Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Complete Works for Violin and Piano.
Pre-First Violin Sonata. Largo. Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-4.

Nobu Wakabayashi (violin); Thomas Wise (piano).
Arte Nova 74321 75495-2 (two discs] [DDD] [91'18]
 Bargain Price

This is a double CD of the complete works for violin & piano including the so-called Pre-First sonata of c.1901 from the composer's college days; two movements of it, which were discarded by Charles Ives as 'not good enough' originally, are given here notwithstanding. The chronology of the main four sonatas is a little confusing, but set out by Thomas Wise. The first comes from 1903 & 1908, embodying music recalled from holiday gatherings, with tunes & hymns from Camp Meetings; the second sonata (no dates supplied, but it was 1902-10) has a tipsy, riotous hoe-down and an open air church service. The third was completed in 1914, but has material from 1902-04, the first movement a magnified hymn, the second based on 'old ragtime stuff'. The fourth (1916) was intended for a 12-yr. old to play but got out of hand - the boy could not manage the last two movements, 'neither could his teacher'! As common with Ives, the material includes hymns and marching songs.

There is a refreshing unpredictability about this music and an early LP of them in my collection, by Paul Zukofsky & Gilbert Kalish, was for long one of my favourites, especially their unbuttoned way with some of the wilder music of the second sonata. This new recording seems to me far too dour and serious, not capturing the iconoclastic fun of them at all. Nobu Wakabayashi is an earnest violinist, but her tone is often unbeautiful and she lacks flair. The accompaniments are inclined to be heavy and not well differentiated and the whole seems to be an example of the vice of putting down an integrale for the sake of it, without any real sympathy for the music. I have not had an opportunity to assess the several CD versions available, but I have played again my LPs of the Zukofsky/Kalish (Nonesuch HB-73025) and found it even better than remembered. This is the real thing; if it were to be re-issued, it would be hard to beat. The elegant black & gold LP packaging, with extensive notes, are a reminder of how much we have lost with the constraints of the jewel case, and the experience of this comparison is a warning not to lightly relegate your LPs to the attic!

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also review by Colin Clarke

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