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Bernhard Gander • Ives: Piano Sonata No. 1 etc

Joonas Ahonen (piano, celesta) (BIS)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0
BIS2409_Ives

Bernhard Gander • Ives
Gander: Peter Parker; Ives: Piano Sonata No. 1; Three-Page Sonata
Joonas Ahonen (piano, celesta)
BIS BIS-2409 (CD/SACD)   61:27 mins

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Having already scaled the peaks of Charles Ives’s Second Piano Sonata, the Concord, for BIS, the Finnish pianist Joonas Ahonen has now turned with matching clarity to its equally tumultuous, if less transcendental, sibling.

The analytical booklet note downplays Ives’s notion of a musical kaleidoscope constructed from memories of late-19th-century daily life in Connecticut farming villages, though the sleeve note for its first recording by William Masselos in 1953 offered specifics in the composer’s own words, from barn dances and ‘town band quick-steps’ to a father’s jubilation at a school baseball game. A related impersonal air hangs over Ahonen’s performance. It’s crisp and clean in the mightiest of the music’s tangles and brilliant as a technical feat, but I couldn’t help missing the heady excitements and sense of danger in Masselos’s two recordings. There is something special, though, about Ahonen’s handling of the Three-Page Sonata, and it’s mostly the sound of a celesta (also played by Ahonen), used to colour the bell timbres suggested in one of the quieter sections’ top lines. Also memorable is this pungent work’s final long reverberation into silence.

The album’s filler, Peter Parker, from the 52-year-old Austrian composer Bernhard Gander, initially suggests the crazy jolting rhythms of Conlon Nancarrow’s player-piano studies; but without wit, brevity and personality, the work quickly becomes a dry irritant. The title and booklet comments indicate the inspiration Gander found in Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man mythology. It’s apparent nowhere else.

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Geoff Brown