, January 2009
Ives’s four extraordinary Violin Sonatas were written between 1902 and 1906, and are quite a find. Their erratically stimulating originality is in no doubt, but they are also among his most immediately appealing works, with the usual tantalizing snatches of hymns and popular tunes to spice the melodic flow. The First Sonata immediately shows how well Ives can integrate a dialogue in which violin and piano move comfortably and independently together, not always sharing the same invention. The three movements of Sonata No. 2 explain themselves: Autumn; In the Barn (where the fiddle plays for a square dance with a kaleidoscope of popular themes), while the Revival finale opens very gently and evocatively: its energy suddenly bursts forth and then characteristically evaporates into silence.
The Third Sonata, perhaps the finest of the set, has a reflective opening movement, a hymn of four verses, each with a refrain. The second movement, with its quirky syncopations, ‘represents a meeting where the feet and body, as well as the voice, add to the excitement’. The extended finale, again marked Adagio, has a hauntingly ambiguous melodic flow and ‘the tonality throughout is supposed to take care of itself’.
The last and shortest Sonata, subtitled Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting, is immediately rhythmically catchy. The central Largo is quiet and serious, quoting the hymn, Jesus Loves Me, with the violin ruminating in the background; and the marching finale brings one of Ives’s favourite tunes, Shall we Gather at the River, and ends in mid-phrase.
There is no doubt that the full-timbred Curt Thompson ad Rodney Waters are excellent artists. It is difficult to imagine this music being played better or more idiomatically, and the daunting bravura is readily forthcoming. The recording too is most realistic.