Copland, Ives

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COMPOSERS: Copland,Ives
LABELS: Mode
WORKS: Piano Fantasy
PERFORMER: Sara Laimon (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 93
These two major American works make a fascinating coupling. Ives wrote most of the music of his First Piano Sonata in the first decade of the 20th century, and it took a lot of editing before it was first performed in 1949. Its five movements are almost as dense as his Second (Concord) Sonata, defiantly kicking over all traces of Ives’s solidly Germanic musical education in a sort of stream of consciousness, teeming with homely references to hymn tunes and so on. The programme notes reassure listeners that they can abandon themselves and not worry about losing their bearings.

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By contrast, Copland’s Fantasy is clarity itself, as rational as it is austere. There are big sonorous moments, but also a lot of two-part writing, and sometimes the music is reduced to a single line. Yet the tension is never relaxed, at least not in this recording, and in its very different way, the 30-minute long piece is as rugged as Ives. The nature of Copland’s lean piano writing brings out the instrument’s innate clangy quality, so perhaps it’s unfair to attach any blame to either the pianist or the recording. Both works are played, to my ears, with impressive authority. Adrian Jack