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Charles Ives Songs
(Volume 2) Romanzo di Central Park and other songs

On the Counter The Circus Band Two Little Flowers (and dedicated to them) Ilmenau Night Song Down East Premonitions The See’r Songs my mother taught me In the Alley Mists They are There! In Flanders Fields The South Wind My Native Land Watchman! The Children’s Hour Evidence The World’s Wanderers Slow March Omens and Oracles Those Evening Bells Allegro Evening The Last Reader To Edith At the River A Christmas Carol The Light that is Felt l Romanzo di Central Park

Gerald Finley baritone
Julius Drake piano
(MAGNUS JOHNSTON obbligato violin)

Hyperion CDA67644 [TT: 62'28 Recorded February 2007]

Hyperion's second disc of Ives songs more than fulfills the promise of the first volume (2004) and may they long continue.

The range covered here is again vast, from tonal simplicity to complex harmonic exploration well ahead of its time, with dense textures putting huge demands upon the pianist, and including a group of War Songs. Again, authoritative notes from Calum MacDonald, and presentation with full texts, which can perhaps be left to a second hearing, so good is Finley's diction. For two of the songs there are violin obbligatti, a feature of song performances of the time.

In my review of the first volume, I drew attention to Roberta Alexander's two-CD selection for etcetera, and last month I added the very personal selection of Jill Feldman, which should certainly not be ignored.

I can but repeat my ? heretical wish that, they having now become well established in the CD catalogue, recitals of Ives songs ought to now become as commonplace in venues like Wigmore Hall as those of the great German romantic composers.

Peter Grahame Woolf

IVES Songs (Volume 1)

Gerald Finley (baritone) Julius Drake (piano)

A Song—for Anything; When stars are in the quiet skies; Memories; Berceuse; The Cage; Ich grolle nicht; Die alte Mutter; Feldeinsamkeit; Weil’ auf Mir; Elégie; Walking; Tolerance; Thoreau; The Things our Fathers Loved; Tom Sails Away; Serenity; Like a Sick Eagle; Ann Street; Remembrance; From “Swimmers”; The New River; “1,2,3”; West London; The Housatonic at Stockbridge; The Side Show; Yellow Leaves; The Greatest Man; Where the eagle cannot see; Slugging a Vampire; Charlie Rutlage; General William Booth Enters into Heaven

HYPERION CDA 67516 [Recorded November 2004; 70 mins]

I have admired and enjoyed the informality and variety of Charles Ives' privately printed a book of 114 Songs since encountering it at a London library (probably Westminster's Central Music Library) in the '60s and working through some of them with my boy-singer son - we explored a vast repertoire together. To my regret, I didn't get round to buying a copy - and probably couldn't have afforded to then...

I retained an affection for these songs, some of them simple & naively romantic in style, others innovative and tough, needing full professionalism of voice and keyboard ability. I also retained a memory of Ives' own modest introduction to the volume, and am delighted to find it readily accessible on an Ives website; do click and read it, you'll be sure to smile!

Gerald Finley is a fine guide, with his warm, comfortable baritone which suits Ives relaxed and unpretentious approach to this more private part of his art to perfection. Calum MacDonald in his exemplary notes sorts out the chronology and history of the various items, which went through different versions, some beginning as instrumental pieces. He suggests that the songs bring us closer to Ives' emotional core than his compositions in other genres. There are sentimental ballads, strenuous phlosophical discourses (virtuosic for the pianist), showpieces like General William Booth enters into Heaven, songs long and short (Slugging a Vampire, 23 seconds!); all of them programmed with striking juxtapositions which keep you listening and relishing the surprises.

Julius Drake is a perfect partner, and I guess he was too a prime influence on the selection? The recording in Finchley is intimate and clear, with a suitable church acoustic to ensure warmth. A special word for the Booklet Editor Tim Parry, who gives the English words (and parallel translations of the five songs in German and French) with ideal pagination; titles in bold make it easy to follow MacDonald's notes on the individual songs whilst listening.

It is good to have a substantial Ives collection in the British discography. After enjoying this new Hyperion collection (the first volume of several, I hope; Ives wrote some 200 songs, far more than that collection) you may want to explore further. There are, of course, previous recorded collections; I have Roberta Alexander's (etcetera) and, surfing Amazon.com I find strong recommendations for an early recording by Jan de Gaetani whose historic recording (she died prematurely of leukaemia) brings enormous concentration to a very different selection from Finley's.

In the passing decades, a few Ives songs would turn up in recitals as light relief, mostly the quirkier and funnier ones. I am not convinced that German lieder cycles of the 19th Century are so much better than all the other later sets as to warrant their near monopoly of vocal recitals in London's Wigmore Hall - even though translations are meticulously provided there, a great help. This recital on CD reminded me of another high point in my song fancying experience, Eisler's The Hollywood Songbook at the Edinburgh Festival, where Christopher Maltmann told me afterwards that there was no chance of his recording it because Matthias Goerne has already done so.

Time for Wigmore Hall, as a change from all those millers daughters and melancholy winter journeys, to risk smaller audiences of connoisseurs with full recitals of Eisler by Maltman and Ives by Finley?

Peter Grahame Woolf