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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.

Howard Goldstein
BBC Music Magazine, November 2009

The final volume of Naxos’s complete songs of Charles Ives offers the same virtues as its predecessors: assured performances from gifted young singers and pianists accompanied by pithy, informative notes from Richard Whitehouse. While some may object to the alphabetical organisation, you can afford to buy them all at bargain price and make your own selection. I was particularly struck this time around by the beauty of Ives’s German settings, while the gruff humour of his musical experiments is aptly represented by the wild trio of pianos that accompany ‘Vote for Names, Names, Names’, a political satire that has not lost its relevance.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, March 2009

Ives’ music can still shock an audience and raise passionate debate amongst music-lovers. Despite living to a grand old age, and seeing his music start to gain an audience, Ives wrote little after 1918. True he tinkered with pieces, left sketches for a Piano Concerto—the Emerson Concerto, which was reconstructed David G Porter—and considered a Universe Symphony which would be all embracing in its intent and purpose, but the majority of his work after the war was vocal; the simple song for voice and piano.

I’m not sure how many songs Ives wrote during his career but the six disks so far issued by Naxos comprise some 191 songs. This collection is as interesting and varied as it could be, ranging from the naïve simplicity of Two Little Flowers to the forthright, but somewhat ribald, They are There!—Ives’ own contribution to the war effort. One of the confusing things about the songs is the bewildering variety of styles in which they are written. It seems to me that he simply wrote in whatever style he thought best fitted the text he had chosen. When he wrote his own words I am sure that the accompanying music sprang alongside the words. This still leaves us confused at the sometimes drawing room ballad style of some of the songs when heard against his more philosophical and complex ones.

This collection concentrates on the more straightforward songs but contains some wonderful surprises—Walking was the first Ives song I ever heard. It still has the power to shock. Starting as a simple song, when the tempo increases the singer gives a, spoken, commentary on the events and sights before him. It’s a marvelous piece of work which never does what you think it might. They Are There! uses unison voices, and piccolo obbligato, and is a passionate war song. Tom Sails Away tells of a family parting in the First World War. We also hear some of his philosophical works—Thoreau, after a spoken introduction, is all contemplation, and his setting of Matthew Arnold, West London—a vision of a growing society. There are the lighter songs, one dedicated to his adoptive daughter, and the very strange Tarrant Moss which sets words by Kipling. However, as copyright permission was refused Ives wrote his own verse and published it under the title Slugging a Vampire! This is Ives at his most perverse. The version recorded here uses the original Kipling words.

Whilst there’s nothing on this disk of the stature of From the Incantation (1921), On the Antipodes (1915/1923) or the astonishing General William Booth Enters Into Heaven (1914) this is an interesting collection of much less well known Ives vocal works. The use of several different singers makes for a really interesting set. They are all very good, with controlled voices, no wobble and vibrato held to a minimum.

Over the years there have been many recordings of handfuls of these songs, from Fischer-Dieskau, Marni Nixon and Jan DeGaetani, but this is part of a complete sequence of the songs and it should be in every collection. The recording is excellent, in good sound and the balance between voice and piano is exemplary. Although Naxos do not accompany the disc with texts for the songs the liner-notes are helpful and give a good idea of what each piece is about.

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.

Peter Dickinson
Gramophone, March 2009

…Many of these early songs have memorable tunes, are expertly crafted in the idiom of the 1890s—somewhere between Lieder and the salon ballad—and deserve a life of their own…The jingoistic "They Are There!" that Ives recorded himself is rattled off with seven singers plus piccolo and more; "A Son of a Gambolier" is fun with all the specified instrumental extras; "Rough Wind", also the opening theme of Symphony No 1, uses two pianists—the transcription for a single player was impossible; and the late song "Sunrise" (Tamara Mumford), with violin and piano, is sadly atmospheric. Ryan MacPherson is brazenly effective in the election cynicism of "Vote for Names!" and the epigrammatic "September". Patrick Carfizzi and pianist Douglas Dickson make a vivid team in an earlier election song "William Will" but I still can't get used to the fine countertenor Ian Howell in something like "Serenity". Robert Gardner's flexible baritone is once again a delight in all the Ives styles. His "Paracelsus" makes an impressive start to Vol 5; "West London" carries its drama through into the soft piano postlude; and only his spoken introduction to "Thoreau" is disappointing. It's a pleasure to hear the silvery charm of Sumi Kittelberger whose "Ein Ton" (a really catchy tune), "Sehnsucht' and "Widmung" are exquisitely done. The English versions of all these songs are included in earlier volumes. Mary Phillips charms with songs such as "Wiegenlied" and "Yellow Leaves"…the series is a genuine landmark in presenting Ives whole like this for the first time.

Robert A Moore
American Record Guide, March 2009

Naxos has now recorded all the songs of Charles Ives in six volumes. The songs ‘Tarrant Moss’ to ‘Yellow Leaves’ are presented in this volume; and once again new delights await the listener, including his 1913 setting of ‘Watchman’, used to great effect in his Fourth Symphony. Presenting the songs in alphabetical order offers a random sampling on each volume of songs from all stages of the composer’s life. The disadvantage of this arrangement is that it separates songs composed as sets, but good cross-referencing in the notes helps the listener make those connections.

Of particular interest in this set is hearing how Ives reworked material. In 1917 he wrote ‘He Is There’ (heard in Volume 3) in response to WW I and reworked the music as ‘They Are There’ (heard on this volume) in 1942 in response to WW II. Both songs have his own texts, and both are gung-ho expressions of support for the troops, his 1942 setting carrying the subtitle “Fighting for the People’s New Free World.” In the earlier setting, the piccolo adds just a few notes of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as a kind of final punctuation after singer and pianist finish; in the later setting he again has the piccolo add a few notes of the national anthem but this time in a decidedly more eccentric manner. He also adds a reference to ‘Reveille’. The piccolo is a far better choice than the violin used in Finley’s wonderful second volume of Ives songs (M/J 2008).

The piano accompaniment is similar in both settings, with its delightfully quirky rhythms, but the composition is more compact in the latter. Ives gave the option for ‘They Are There’ to be sung by unison voices, and on this recording it is performed by seven of the singers.

The entire project was recorded in May and June 2005, so there is consistency of sound and performance in the six volumes. More than 25 artists participated in this project, and their performances range from more than adequate to outstanding. Further detail about the series can be found in previous reviews (N/D 2008, J/F 2009). Fortunately the singers’ diction is excellent, because the listener must go to the Naxos website for texts—and even then many are unavailable, particularly some of the texts by the composer. In spite of that frustration, this wonderful series is indispensable for Ives lovers., December 2008

The final volume in Naxos’ six-CD release of the songs of Charles Ives brings to 193 the number of Ives songs in the series—far more than Ives released himself as 114 Songs, and still a somewhat uncertain number. As with so much involving Ives, a lot depends on how you look at things. In this sixth volume, for example, “Two Slants (Christian and Pagan)” are counted as two separate songs dated 1921; but they could as easily be considered parts of a single work. And in this volume and others, the same song may appear in multiple guises—once in German, for instance, and once in an English translation—and be counted multiple times. Furthermore, this final volume contains a song dated 1942—nearly two decades after Ives stopped writing songs. But “They Are There!” is simply a verbal update for World War II of the song Ives wrote in 1917 for World War I, “He Is There!” The lesson in all this is that the numbers do not really matter, but the music does. And this comprehensive survey of all the songs that Ives completed certainly shows the importance of the song in his compositional output—and the fascinating ways in which his song writing developed. The latter will have to be ferreted out by listeners, though, because the series’ alphabetical arrangement means constant juxtaposition of later and earlier Ives songs for no reason beyond their titles (thus, the sixth volume contains three consecutive songs in German, including one from 1906 whose text comes from the Des Knaben Wunderhorn collection much favored by Mahler). Just by the luck of the alphabet, this concluding CD does not contain as many top-notch Ives songs as some earlier volumes (the fifth is best in this respect). Still, there are some gems here, such as “Thoreau” (1915), whose mood parallels that of the “Concord” Sonata; “Vote for Names! Names! Names!” (1912), an effective one-minute condemnation of election-year excesses, in which three pianos represent three different candidates and the voice stands for the put-upon voter; “Tolerance” (1913), another very brief song, in which Ives affirms the interdependence of all people; “West London” (1921), a heartfelt setting of a Matthew Arnold sonnet; and the last song on the CD, “Yellow Leaves” (1923), whose ambiguous tonality and autumnal theme make it a fitting conclusion for an excellent cycle even though it stands at the end only because of its spelling of its title.

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