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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.

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.

Howard Goldstein
BBC Music Magazine, December 2008


Volumes four [8.559272] and five [8.559273] of Naxos’s six-disc series [Vol 1 - 8.559269; Vol 2 - 8.559270; Vol 3 - 8.559271; Vol 6 - 8.559274] maintains a remarkably high standard of both accuracy and sympathy, as well as of recording quality, despite being the product of many sessions involving some 16 singers, four pianists and other instrumentalists….the warm mezzo of Tamara Mumford [who sings on all six volumes] makes a good impression, not least in the visionary ‘Sunrise’ [Vol 5]. Among the men, the incisive tenor of Ryan MacPherson [Vols 4, 5 & 6] and the firm bass of David Pittsinger  [all six volumes] stand out, while baritone Robert Gardner [all six volumes] and pianist Eric Trudel [all six volumes] launch the two discs in fine declamatory style with ‘Majority’ [Vols 4] and ‘Paracelsus’ [Vol 5] respectively.

Peter Dickinson
Gramophone, December 2008

IVES, C.: Songs, Vol. 3 8.559271
IVES, C.: Songs, Vol. 4 8.559272

The jury is still out on this exploration of a lesser-known area of Ives’s output

I welcomed the first two volumes of the complete songs and tried to readjust to a situation where Ives is represented by a mass of Victoriana as well as his groundbreaking innovations. Vols 3 and 4 also have a large cast of singers, many of whom work in opera. I am becoming uneasy about this decision since some songs emerge as over-projected and some of the singers have too much vibrato for concert songs of this kind.

Robert Gardner is again outstanding—his “The Indians” luxuriates in the mesmeric, visionary quality associated with Ives at his most personal. He’s excellent too in the near—Sprechstimme of “Like a Sick Eagle”. Again in “Lincoln the Great Commoner” Gardner is monumental and sturdy, worthy of the subject. Patrick Carfizzi sounds rather brutal in “In Flanders Fields”, the First World War song performed for a group of Ives’s business colleagues with disastrous effect.

Robert Gardner begins Vol 4 with the epic philosophical declamation “The Majority” and battles his way splendidly through the fisticuffs of the tone-clusters. This was the first song of Ives’s privately published 114 songs in 1922—everyone was totally baffled.

I noted the eccentric choice of the fine countertenor Ian Howell in the first two volumes but I am less convinced by some of his songs here. In both these volumes the songs where Ives set a text in German—probably a student exercise—and later replaced it with English are performed twice, not always together. “My Native Land” is even performed three times by three different singers: the recent new edition provides alternatives for performers to make their own choices in a single song. Leah Wool is not nimble enough in “Memories” and this song should not have been divided into two separate tracks. Gardner’s is terrific again in “An Election”, Ives’s own ever-topical cynical text about the 1920 presidential contest. Kenneth Tarver misses the satirical element against academics in “The One Way” but “On the Antipodes” comes over splendidly with Ryan MacPherson and duet pianists Douglas Dickson and Laura Garritson. And Sumi Kittelberger delivers an atmospheric “Over all the Treetops”, having performed it in German on the previous CD.

As in popular music of the period, Ives’s Victoriana contains quite a lot of mother songs as well as coy love songs with some dreadfully sentimental texts. So these volumes are a mixed bag and as far as I’m concerned the jury is out on this side of little-known early Ives. I’ll come back to it when I’ve heard the whole collection.

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