Ives • Berg • Webern

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COMPOSERS: Berg,Ives,Webern
LABELS: Zig-Zag Territoires
ALBUM TITLE: Ives • Berg • Webern
WORKS: Ives: Piano Sonata No. 2; Berg: Piano Sonata, Op. 1; Webern: Variations for piano, Op. 27
PERFORMER: Alexei Lubimov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ZZT 362

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Perhaps no other Russian concert pianist today commands quite the range of Alexei Lubimov, all the way from early music on period instrument to Stockhausen, John Cage – and, not least, Charles Ives. This recording of the Concord Sonata (No. 2) – Ives’s vast tribute to the ‘Transcendentalist’ worthies of that New England town – dates from 1997. And while technically impressive, it also has the spontaneity and sweep of live performance – from the craggy apostrophes of the opening ‘Emerson’ movement to the misty impressionism of finale evoking Thoreau’s Walden Pond (with Marianne Henkel adding the optional distant flute solo Ives suddenly asks for near the end). Virtuosity may be pushed to the very limit in the fantastical whirligig of quotations comprising the second movement tribute to Nathaniel Hawthorne, but the homely simplicities of the Alcotts are quite as successfully characterised. The piano sound is vivid and, apart from a solitary cough, one would hardly know an audience is present.

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The other two works come from a different concert, with slightly less resonant piano sound and a slightly more evident audience. Lubimov sounds a little unsettled in the opening bars of Anton Webern’s lapidary Variations, missing something of their mysterious poise, though he defines the remaining movements cleanly enough, and rides the chromatic surges of Alban Berg’s hyper-Romantic one-movement Sonata with conviction. All the same, Peter Hill’s account of the Webern is both clearer in structure and more finely nuanced on his Naxos CD, which also contains a strong account of the Berg. Bayan Northcott