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Charles Ives Four Violin Sonatas

Sonata for Violin and Piano No 1. Sonata for Violin and Piano No 2. Sonata for Violin and Piano No 3. Sonata for Violin and Piano No 4, Children's Day

Curt Thompson & Rodney Waters

Naxos American Classics 8.559119 [1998, 77 minutes]

I have liked these rarely performed sonatas since acquiring the Zukofsky/Kalish LP (1974), long since gone into the communal graveyard of deletions. They seemed excellent, but Gramophone, when welcoming the first CD (Schneeberger and Cholette, ECM New Series 449 956-2) mentions 'poor sound' in its round-up of earlier recordings. Now we have all the sonatas for under £5 and can, as usual, be indebted to Naxos (the Fulkerson/Shannon version on Bridge, reviewed by my namesake, costs c.£22 !).

They make an approachable, invigorating and entertaining group, dating from Ives’s maturity and composing peak years. Technically, they are interesting for his personal 'cumulative form'; pieces which begin with subtle suggestions of a pre-existing melody which is ultimately revealed in its 'simple entirety' (Peter Burholder).

The sonatas range from the longest at over half an hour (No 3) to the brief No 4, less than ten minutes for its three movements. The Naxos notes quote Ives' picturesque comments on each one, and the whole thing is thoroughly enjoyable. It was about a try-out of the first sonata with a famous violinist, who could make no sense of it at all, that Ives found himself wondering "Are my ears on wrong?".

They weren't, and I promise you enjoyment with no problems at all in the hands of these young Texans.

© Peter Grahame Woolf