This is an excellent and challenging CD...
Claire Rogers 2005-03-09
This fascinating CD presents a collection of Ives's piano pieces which have so far either remained unpublished, or have been re-evaluated and revised by the pianist Donald Berman. Some of the pieces had initially been edited by Berman's piano teacher, John Kirkpatrick, a champion and friend of Ives who undertook to make sense of, edit and catalogue, the many unpublished works and sketches Ives left in loose manuscript pages after his death in 1954. It was Kirkpatrick who taught Berman to approach the works of contemporary composers with meticulous care, and this is exactly what he does on this disc.
There's everything here from simple, sometimes amusing pieces, to more dauntingly experimental and harmonically challenging works. They're all quite short, the longest just over 8 minutes, and the briefest - the tiny slithering and tumbling Study no.4 - a mere fragment at 35 seconds. This piece, and the Study no.5, are some of the most radical of Ives's smaller piano works in their use of tone rows and dense counterpoint and should dispel any ideas that Ives's music is just about jaunty marches and musical borrowings.
Other highlights include the awesome Impression of the St Gaudens in Boston Common, The Celestial Railroad and Varied Air and Variations. There's something strange and haunting about these pieces, reminiscent in their mood of dark fantasy of Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit. Bermans playing is evocative and powerful and he shapes this hugely demanding music brilliantly and with great clarity.
For the astonishing Three Quarter-Tone Pieces for Two Pianos Berman is joined by the pianist Stephen Drury. The two instruments are tuned a quarter-tone apart, and it's incredible how soon the ear becomes accustomed to the strangeness of this tuning. Equally mesmerising is the Waltz-Rondo. Berman ends the CD with a string of quirky marches the last of which includes an actual transcription of an improvised performance recorded by Ives in 1943 a real insight.
This is an excellent and challenging CD, brilliantly performed and with full liner notes written by Berman himself. I thoroughly recommend it.