Classical Music Review: New Releases

Ives Plays Ives: The Composer at the Piano in Four Recording Sessions, 1933 - 1943. CRI CD 810. 17 pieces on 42 tracks (Total time 77:36).

These recordings, made long after Charles Ives had given up composing, were something of a disappointment for Ives. He was annoyed at the time constraints, which limited him to takes of four minutes each, and was unable (or unwilling) to record his compositions in pieces ("How can you dive off a rock when you're in the middle of the pool?"). Even so, there is something engaging and magnificent about these recordings, many of which come from his Emerson Concerto. Ives has lived with these pieces for so long that, in effect, he is able to produce improvisatory sketches that give the listener a sense of evesdropping on the compostional process.

It's difficult not to sympathize with Ives' frustration . Unlike the ragas described below, these are fragments not miniatures and there is often a feeling of Ives being cut off in mid-flight. Several of the tracks end with him giving a groan or a cry of dispair ("Oh! That's the note! My finger slipped on it."). That said, they are invaluable for anyone with an interest in Ives' music and are, of course, self-recommending. They suggest, as Ives always claimed, that composition was a form of improvisation for Ives.  Highlights include the composer singing "They Are There!" and a transcendent performance of the "Alcotts" from the Concord Sonata.

Tony Gualtieri

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