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Steve Hicken, December 2010

IVES Songs Volume 1: “123” through “Cradle Song” Naxos 8.559269
IVES Songs Volume 2: “December” through “Gruss” Naxos 8.559270
IVES Songs Volume 3: “Harpalus” through “Luck and Work” Naxos 8.559271
IVES Songs Volume 4: “Majority” through “Over the Treetops” Naxos 8.559272
IVES Songs Volume 5: “Paracelsus” through “Swimmers” Naxos 8.559273
IVES Songs Volume 6: “Tarrant Moss” through “Yellow Leaves”. Naxos 8.559274

Charles Ives completed nearly 200 songs between 1887 and 1926, spanning the entirety of his composing life. All of his aesthetic, musical, poetic, philosophical, and political concerns are addressed, one way or another, in one style or another. All of the completed songs are included in Naxos’ six volumes, which are organized according to song titles, in alphabetical order. This arrangement seems extremely counter-intuitive, but it turns out to be really inspired, as it allows a listener to get a picture of the range of Ives’ work in the form, without having to purchase the entire set.

Like every collection of this size and this variety, every listener will have favorites and every listener will find revelations. Many of the songs are well-known, such as “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven” (Volume 2, David Pittsinger, bass, and Douglas Dickson, piano), “Majority” (Volume 4, Robert Gardner, baritone, and Eric Trudel, piano), “The Cage” (Volume 1, Gardner and J. J. Penna, piano) and “The Greatest Man” (Michael Cavalieri, baritone, and Dickson).

An example of a revelation is “Ich Grolle Nicht” (Volume 3, Gardner and Penna). This is an early (1898) song on a text by Heinrich Heine. This song and others from the same time frame show a fully mature composer with a solid grasp on the late Romantic style of the day. The touching lyricism that characterizes this song emerges throughout Ives’ career, as in the deconstruction of the hymn “At the River” (Volume 1, Sara Jakubiak, soprano, and Dickson).

Ives’ stentorian mode comes into play in such political/patriotic songs as “Lincoln, the Great Commoner” (Volume 3, Gardner and Trudel) and “Walt Whitman” (Volume 6, Ryan MacPherson, tenor, and Trudel), which are also portraits of their subjects in the manner of the composer’s “Concord” Sonata. Patriotic fervor also brings out Ives at his most gloriously impractical, as in the 42-second song for voice and three pianos “Vote for Names! Names! Names!” (Volume 6, MacPherson and pianists Laura Garritson, Dickson, and Trudel).

Every disc is replete with the special pleasures of Ives’ art. Hymn-tunes, patriotic songs, and chaos abound. Anyone wishing to stick a toe in this repertoire would do well to get any one of the volumes.

The performances throughout the collection, featuring about two dozen singers, a number of pianists and assorted instrumentalists, are ardent, committed, and expressive, if not quite as polished as those of Susan Narucki and Donald Berman. Naxos’ production is solid, and Richard Whitehouse’s notes are well-written and richly informative.

C. Michael Bailey
All About Jazz, May 2009

Charles Ives (1874–1954) might appropriately be considered the American Schubert. Art songs made up a great part of each composers’ output. Ives published his songs himself to ensure their availability to the public for both performance and listening pleasure. Ives drew his muse from the hymns he played in church, the folk tunes he heard locally and the Western European art songs he studied in university. He made all these styles his own, often banging them together as he did in his symphonies. These songs are a yellowing snapshot of early 20th century Protestant New England, a glimpse of the Americana of that era…Volume 1 of Naxos Songs has several gems, beginning with the arithmetic ejaculation “1, 2, 3.” Clocking in at a mere 34 seconds, “1, 2, 3” is spit out in a spasm by bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi. “Abide With Me” is an early hymn by Ives, sung operatically by soprano Sara Jakubiak and supported by pianist Eric Trudel, who shoulders the majority of the piano duties on the disc. “Afterglow” captures the dissonant anxiety and is in stark contrast to the consonant character of “Abide With Me.” “At the River” is plaintively sung by Sara Jakubiak, Ives’ reharmonization predicting pianist Thelonious Monk by 25 years…“A Christmas Carol” is readily recognizable, well rendered by countertenor Ian Howell and played in the great Protestant American manner by pianist Douglas Dickson. This first installment of Charles Ives’ songs is a sure treat, tuneful and difficult, like its composer.

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, March 2009

As I write this review, I realize that Naxos has moved on very quickly and there are now five volumes of Ives’ complete songs available in the shops. Nevertheless the pattern for these discs seems to have been repeated for the latest ones so I can throw some light on what they are all about and what you can expect. The first thing to say is that the whole concept is brilliant, that is, to vary the voices, young ones as well as experienced opera singers—all biographies are meticulously given in the booklets—and to vary the accompanists. These latter can sometimes be overlooked but here each has done a sterling job. On some occasions the piano part is massively more difficult than the vocal one. Also inspired was the decision to put the items together in alphabetical order. This places the songs in a random chronological manner so that as you listen you have the prospect of a new and pleasing surprise around every corner.

…Ives published his 114 songs—many very short indeed—in 1922. There are in fact about sixty others which form part of this complete collection. We may be coming to terms with his modernistic and later songs but this complete collection helps us to get to know the ‘Victoriana’ as well. The chromaticisms are such as to remind me of César Franck in for instance ‘Far from my heavenly home’. By 1922 he was approaching the end of his composing career although he had many years yet to live. I am a firm believer that the music written from about 1914 onwards is pure nostalgia. These songs—or indeed several of the orchestral works—often begin with a strange polytonal chord and then proceed in a similar manner supporting a tonal melody. One example is ‘August’ where the mood is captured superbly by David Pittsinger on Naxos. Incidentally, his diction is always immaculate and I was delighted to discover that it is he who tackles, excellently, the famous but challenging ‘General William Booth enters into Heaven’ on Volume 2.

Other personal highlights, both musically and in the quality of the performance would be ‘The Ending Year’ (Sara Jukubiak), ‘Grace’ (Tamara Mumford), ‘Charlie Routlage’ (Patrick Carfizzi), ‘Aeschylus and Sophocles’(Mary Philips) and the incredibly powerful ‘December’ (Janna Baty).

Looking through Ives’ choice of poetry is interesting as there is such a huge range which must represent his personal reading and interests. The anonymous ones may, in some cases be his own poetry although, as can be seen above he did normally credit himself. Perhaps ‘Far in the Wood’ may be such a poem. He also set texts in German where Wolf is almost looking over his shoulder. There are also French settings however the chanson ‘Elegie’ is a long way from Fauré.

There is a wide variety of fun and thought available in this little known and in some cases utterly unknown repertoire. These recordings may encourage more singers both amateur and professional, and not just American ones, to take up the Ives cause. A little group of Ives in a recital programme or on an examination syllabus would be refreshing and of enormous interest to listeners and performers.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, March 2009

Charles Ives’s complete songs, arranged alphabetically by title from No.1 (“1,2,3”) to No.193 (“Yellow Leaves”) are performed by 18 fine singers, excellent pianists, and other instrumentalists as required (8.559269–8.559274, six discs). Ives, perhaps America’s greatest musical visionary, did not have the compositional technique to fulfill his quixotic ideas. Because his songs are short, formal problems don’t arise that plague his larger pieces; textual consistency also tends to unify his materials, so that his songs don’t sound as arbitrary as some of the larger pieces do. He set great Europeans like Milton and Heine rather awkwardly. Greater inspiration seems to have come from the American writers of his time, like Whitman or Whittier, whose works were set eccentrically, but with a particular American flavor. Many of his songs were arranged from instrumental pieces: Thoreau (Vol.6) is from the Second Piano Sonata, the haunting finale of “Three Places in New England” shows up as The Housatonic at Stockbridge (Vol.3). Several come from his violin sonatas: Watchman (Vol.6), At the River (Vol.1), His Exaltation (Vol.3) and The Camp-Meeting (Vol.1) is from a movement of his Third Symphony. TC favorites are The Circus Band (Vol.1), The New River (Vol.4) and Charlie Rutlage (Vol.1) among others. This is a project of the greatest importance, musically and as documentation, that is not likely to be available otherwise. Collectors will want to sample several of these discs; libraries will want them all.

John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, December 2008

It is taking a long time for singers and the public to appreciate the full extent and importance of Ives’ output of songs. Not as large as Schubert maybe, but still a major achievement. The title alone of the main published source—“114 Songs” (1922)—gives an idea of its scope but there are in fact nearly 200 songs in all. Surprisingly, however, this appears to be the first attempt to record the completed songs in their entirety and, whatever shortcomings there may be in its realisation, this series must be an issue of major importance for anyone with an interest in Ives or indeed in song or in American music in general.

Previous recordings of the songs have usually involved a single singer. A small number of songs have found their way onto many of these discs. Of those on the present discs, “General William Booth enters into Heaven”, “The Greatest Man”, “The Circus Band” and “Ann Street” are amongst this group. What is remarkable is the number of what are to me at least wholly unfamiliar. It may at first seem arbitrary for Naxos to have put the songs into alphabetical order, and indeed it does lead to some strange companions, but the alternatives of arranging them by author, theme or date would run a much greater risk of monotony. On the whole I have no doubt that Naxos have chosen the better option. It means that we hear early songs strongly rooted in American domestic and social music of the late nineteenth century alongside songs completed towards the end of his active composing life; the latter are of a drastically different character. This may be disconcerting at times but constantly draws attention to the Ives’ range as a composer.

Although all were recorded at Yale University, Naxos have divided the songs between a large group of singers and pianists, mainly young Americans. They have even made use of an organ and a string quartet in three instances. Overall the listener can have no doubt of the seriousness with which the project has been undertaken. Each disc has a brief but helpful introduction to each song as well as much longer biographies and photographs of the performers.

All of this is immensely praiseworthy…for the many novelties which they include, and for the way in which they demonstrate the range and quality of Ives’ songs.

R Moore
American Record Guide, November 2008

Naxos has completed the welcome task of recording all the 114 songs that Charles Ives completed. I’ve been an Ives devotee for more than 45 years, and some of these songs have eluded me until now…His songs present the most immediate access to his work as a composer, and this project offers an essential contribution to an appreciation of his art.

Two things are particularly appealing about this first volume. First is the ordering of songs in alphabetical succession, unlike the Albany set that presented the songs in roughly chronological sequence. This first volume offers 29 songs, from ‘1, 2, 3’ to ‘Cradle Song’. Early songs in 19th Century German style, both sentimental and more provocative settings of religious texts, and settings of quirky texts by the composer along with the odd and experimental are all shuffled together rather than arranged in order of composition. The juxtaposition of the songs is striking and sometimes startling, with the lyrical followed by the percussive followed by the dissonant, etc. The randomness of this ordering seems perfectly appropriate to the way Ives captured the disparate aspects of American life so creatively in his music.

Second is the variety of artists, many of whom have been associated with Yale University. Four pianists, one organist, a string quartet, and an uncredited glockenspielist accompany 13 singers. Almost all of the artists are of a high caliber. An adventurous touch is having a countertenor sing two of the songs. Patrick Carfizzi has fun singing ‘Charlie Rutlage’ in a cowboy drawl. Sara Jakubiak is particularly good in a fine setting of Lyte’s familiar hymn text ‘Abide with Me’, and David Pittsinger brings appropriate sentiment to the 1898 parlor song ‘Because of You’. My one disappointment is Leah Wool, who has a fine voice but whose singing lacks affect; she sounds too wooden in the four songs she sings, especially in ‘The Children’s Hour’, where she fails to capture the magic in Longfellow’s vision of an adult enraptured with children.

Hearing the songs sung by such a variety of voices enhances the uniqueness and distinctness of each song without turning it into a singing contest…this first Naxos volume gives you a full range of his songs. I can hardly wait for the next one. All the songs in this project were recorded in Sprague Hall at Yale in May and June 2005. As I was researching this review I discovered a Yale University podcast that gives remembrances of Ives through interviews with his contemporaries, including 20th Century composers Elliott Carter, Henry Cowell, and Lou Harrison, and a friend of “Charlie” who also knew George Ives, the composer’s band-director father. The best portion is at the very conclusion of the half-hour program when you get to hear Ives hollering out a song while banging away on a poor piano. It’s a real hoot. You can find it at http://www.yale. edu/music/podcast/.

The recorded sound is excellent. Clear and concise notes by Richard Whitehouse take up just over two pages, while notes about the artists get eight pages. In the customary Naxos style no texts are supplied, but are available on their web site. Here is a wonderful way to encounter this kaleidoscopic, iconoclastic, inventive, and trail-blazing American composer.

James H. North
Fanfare, November 2008

These mostly young singers comprise a distinguished group; besides winning innumerable competitions, most of them have sung leading roles at major American or European Opera houses and/or supporting roles at the Metropolitan. Matthew Plenk, for instance, was the Voice of the Sailor for James Levine’s recent Tristan und Isolde at the Met. The accompanists, too, share many honors and much experience—the Biava String Quartet has won the Naumburg Chamber Music Award and performed at the world’s best-known chamber music venues: Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, and Wigmore Hall. A common denominator is that most of these performers hold a Yale degree, and several are now or have been faculty members. As Yale is the center of Ives scholarship, all should be well grounded and advised in his wide-ranging idiom. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, November 2008

Tenor Kenneth Tarver, conversely, has a quite spectacular high range and a very interesting voice; his version of Canon I is, therefore, exciting in its own way, …Patrick Carfizzi brings lightness and humor to Charlie Rutlage…

…bass Pittsinger is quite excellent in every respect; soprano Cabot has an infirm voice of little distinction; and tenor Plenk, who sings comprimario roles at the Metropolitan Opera (leading roles elsewhere), sounds amazingly like a young Sperry. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Peter Dickinson
Gramophone, October 2008

Tackling the huge  Ives songbook alphabetically gives us welcome variety…There’s an impressive cast of singers—18 on the first CD [Vol 1, 8.559269]—ranging from graduate students to experienced opera singers. There’s even a fine countertenor, Ian Howell—the timbre works whatever Ives might have thought of such an effeminate voice! There are too many discoveries to mention…Anyone seriously interested in Ives warts-and-all will want to be on board for this series.

Charles T. Downey
Ionarts, September 2008

Charles Ives composed nearly 200 songs…If you want more of those songs than just a single-disc compilation…this ongoing complete set by Naxos may be for you. The songs are arranged in alphabetical order, which will facilitate finding a specific piece in the set; stylistic or chronological order would be difficult considering the revisions Ives made to many of his works. The recordings were made at Yale University’s Sprague Hall, and the various singers were grad students at Yale or had other connections there. When Ives provided parts in addition to the piano, which he did with some frequency, this recording again takes advantage of being made in a school of music, with felicitous results.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2008

It would surely have delighted the unconventional Charles Ives to find that Naxos is presenting his songs in nothing more high-brow than alphabetical order.Throughout his musical life he rejected orthodoxy, an attitude he had inherited from his father, a local bandmaster, who together with his young son had embarked on some zany musical experiments. Yet initially the young man had shown an aptitude to become a conventional composer, following his studies at Yale University with Horatio Parker. But it was the more practical aspects of earning a living that took him into the insurance business, where he was to prove extremely successful, and as a weekend composer he could return to his liberated musical world where performance and publication were no longer his objective. It was this freedom that proved the recipe for his eventual success, his experiments taking him into atonality, while at the same time he could write in the most conventional mode that returned to his youth and time spent playing church music. Only in his later years was his music taken seriously on the international stage and he began to see his works in print. Throughout his life he wrote songs, some little more than snippets lasting a few seconds, others extended and taking their inspiration from German lieder. He left almost two hundred, this projected series containing all those completed at the time of his death. By the second volume we have reached Gruss, so I guess there will be eight volumes when complete. It was courageous of Naxos to use opera singers, though this has its dangers. If only the singers had sat down and listened to Marni Nixon’s long deleted LP, some deficiencies may have been avoided. Sara Jakubiak may then have shaped At the River with more affection; Leah Wool would have heard the ‘tongue in cheek’ charm that can be brought to Ann Street, and David Pittsinger could have noted the mood swings possible in General William Booth Enters into Heaven. The singers find the sentimental ballads much easier to achieve, Pittsinger’s bass heard to good effect in Because of You, and the tenor, Kenneth Tarver, bringing the right mood to Dreams. I also much enjoyed the baritone, Michael Cavalieri, in Die alte Mutter. But finding the style for such songs as Charlie Rutlage, The Circus Band and The Greatest Man is a very different matter.Of course it is all too easy to stand by and comment on such a complex project, and at very least we should be grateful that a complete recording is being undertaken. The piano accompaniments from Eric Trudel and Douglas Dickson are models of cleanliness and good taste, if a little short on the bad taste that Ives sometimes requires. The sound quality is admirable.

David Vernier, July 2008

For this Volume 1 of the songs of Charles Ives (the series will include all of the songs he completed), Naxos employed the services of no less than 13 singers, a potentially risky decision that happily turns out very well. Read full review Review at ClassicsToday

Robert Baxter
Courier-Post, July 2008

Naxos begins its survey of the songs of Charles Ives with a collection of 28 songs. The release enlists no fewer than 13 singers and four pianists.

With so many singers and musicians involved, the results are bound to be mixed. On the whole, the men make a stronger impression then the women.

Bass David Pittsinger sings four selections and leaves a big imprint on each with his firm tone and clear diction. He gives outstanding interpretations of “Because of You” and “The Camp Meeting.”

Also impressive are tenor Kenneth Tarver and baritone Robert Gardner, although the climax of “The All-Enduring” taxes Gardner’s voice. Countertenor Ian Howell caresses two songs with his sweet-toned voice…

Uncle Dave Lewis, July 2008

…Patrick Carfizzi, at least, deserves kudos for thinking out of the box for “Charlie Rutlage,” singing in a Texas-style cowboy drawl. Leah Wool’s reading of “The Children’s Hour” is genuinely lovely, and the idea of casting countertenor Ian Howell in the roles of Ives’ now famous “Christmas Carol” and “At Sea” was a novel one. Likewise, Robert Gardiner deserves singling out for achieving the plain and disinterested tone Ives wanted for “The Cage” and David Pittisinger’s unapologetically sentimental delivery of Ives’ strictly romantic heart-song “Because of You.”…Naxos’ collection of Charles Ives’ songs is off to a very good start—we can only hope that they can keep the momentum going for the remaining 170 or so songs.

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