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IVES Songs

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 in the '60s (probably Westminster's Central Music Library) 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