Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Charles Ives – Songs - 1

‘1, 2, 3’; Abide with Me; Aeschylus and Sophocles; Afterglow; Allegro; The All-Enduring, Amphion; Ann Street; At Parting; At Sea; At the River; August; Autumn; Because of You; Because Thou Art; Berceuse; The Cage; the Camp meeting; Canon I; Canon II; Chanson de Florian; Charlie Rutlage; The Children’s Hour; Christmas Carol, Edie’s; A Christmas Carol; The Circus Band; The Collection; Country Celestial; Cradle Song


Lielle Berman, Jennifer Casey Cabot – sopranos

Tamara Mumford, Mary Phillips, Leah Wool – mezzo sopranos

Ian Howell – counter tenor

Matthew Plenk, Kenneth Tarver – tenors

Michael Cavalieri. Robert Gardner – baritones

Patrick Carfizzi – bass baritone

David Pittsinger - bass

The Biava String Quartet

Frederick Teardo - organ

Eric Trudel, Laura Garritson, J J Penna, Douglas Dickson – piano


Naxos American Classics - 8.559269 [74 minutes - Recorded 2005]



Charles Ives was the first composer whose music really “speaks with an American voice”.  He expresses himself most eloquently in his large output of songs and Naxos are in the process of issuing a series of recordings which will build up to a complete edition. 


In this first volume the songs are presented in alphabetical sequence, which may sound a somewhat “bookish” method of approach, but it will lead to easy location of any song title and does ensure a very good mix of subject matter. 


Of course there is no single voice of America, but Ives draws on the many traditions and the many cultural backgrounds that coalesce to form that complex nation, and they are all reflected in his music in a style that is unmistakably his own.


In this volume we have At the River  with its haunting spiritualist melody, Charlie Rutledge carrying echoes of the Wild West, At Parting has all the lilting charm of an Irish ballad, whilst The Camp Meeting is almost a revivalist hymn, The Circus Band has the rhythm of rag-time and Ann Street positively bustles along with the flurry of Broadway.


Even more variety stems from the number of singers and accompanists involved.  I particularly liked the two tenors: Matthew Plenk and Kenneth Tarver, mezzo-soprano Leah Wool, and the bright soprano of Lielle Berman.


No texts are supplied, and only a limited proportion of them are available at www.naxos.com/libretti/559269, but Ives’ settings are so good that the words are almost always very clear.


A good start to the series – I look forward to further volumes as they are issued.


Serena Fenwick


Charles Ives – Songs - 4

I wish I could endorse Serena Fenwick's satisfaction with the level of audibility in this series, but clear words plus the sense of the whole rarely comes through.

The start is risky, one of Ives' longer and most radical late songs, set to a dense discordant accompaniment against which Robert Gardner could not possibly get the poem across.

The project is a good one, and one fantasizes that we are guests at an Ives singing evening with all his singing friends taking turns - rather as Songmakers Almanac in London used to have the singers sitting out on stage whilst their colleagues were taking their turns...

The singers are variable (two amongst several I enjoyed were Leah Wool & Kenneth Tarver) and whilst the discs are "useful" for collectors, they cannot be set against competitors such as Gerald Finley for Hyperion.

Texts are essential and the booklet as edited is misconceived.* For whom are the lengthy CVs with photos of all the musicians intended (eight pages)? And for this volume there are not any texts on the Naxos website; Libretto Not Yet Available; still under preparation, please try again later...

If this newest disc, with 32 songs, is completing the series, Naxos might be well advised to consider re-releasing them as a boxed set in due course - here, reversing what Hyperion did with their complete Schubert songs, providing full texts on the original single discs issued over a period, then bringing all the recordings together for cheaper re-issue, but without song texts...

Peter Grahame Woolf

*See Prof. Leonard's disappointment with Vol 1: - - Naxos has taken in recent years to omitting texts from their booklets, directing the consumer to their website for a pdf file with texts. In this case, only "selected" lyrics - - sheer laziness - - the vast majority of the Ives song texts are in the public domain - -