Ives: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 3; Violin Sonata No. 4

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COMPOSERS: Ives
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 3; Violin Sonata No. 4
PERFORMER: Hansheinz Schneeberger (violin), Daniel Cholette (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 449 956-2
Ives’s four violin sonatas are fascinating works, showing the disparate elements of his language – popular music, the Austro-German tradition, radical harmonic and rhythmic exploration – in the very act of coming together. The complex First and Third, the riotous Second with its stramash of reels and fiddle tunes, and even the gentler Fourth, planned as an ‘easy’ sonatina incorporating hymn tunes, cover a huge expressive gamut and set their performers a succession of technical and interpretative challenges. There have been plenty of previous recordings, but even the best of those (say Fulkerson and Shannon on Bridge Records, lamentably spread over two discs) tend in places to mislay the thread among the proliferating detail and bizarre juxtapositions, to make the works sound more of an ad hoc assemblage than a sustained achievement of composition.

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The rare virtue of this new disc is that Schneeberger and Cholette do just that: they play Ives’s sonatas as if they were as self-consistent as Brahms (which, in their way, they are). These eloquent interpretations concentrate on the shaping of whole movements, the grand melodic curve of the composer’s thought, of which all the quotations and distortions of familiar melodies are merely the momentary expression. Technically but also empathetically, these are marvellous performances: the recording is very vivid, though sometimes I thought it uncomfortably close. Calum MacDonald