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Charles Ives Piano Music

Sonata no. 2, Concord Mass. 1840-60;
Three-Page Sonata;
Varied Air and Variations

Ciro Longobardi
(Limen Classic & Contemporary CDE06-C007) Mailto:crylong@tin.it


There is some inherent quality in the music of Charles Ives that is fundamentally resistant to the development of a performance practice. Compared to works by his contemporaries (namely Ravel, Scriabin, Bartok, Rachmaninoff, and Gershwin among others) that have (through the composer's performance and recordings of his own works) established a practice of interpretation which is to varying degrees adhered to by successive generations of interpreters, Ives's music has obstinately remained open in regard to basic interpretive decisions.


The release of Ives's own recordings of his piano music (in honor of his centennial - 1974) surprised many listeners - his „Emerson“ (or rather transcriptions and improvisations based on the material from „Emerson“) was much rounder, effusive and romantic than those who heralded Ives as a harbinger of modernism expected. His „Alcotts“ was surprisingly straightforward, not indulging in a sentimental nostalgia that many have come to associate with the author such works as „An Elegy to our Forefathers“, „Old Folks Gatherin'“, and „My Dear Old Mother“.


This release did not, however, hamper the freedom that interpreters enjoy in working on Ives's music, that results in a body of wildly individualistic interpretations. Perhaps the multiplicity in Ives's music and personality- his idealistic and transcendent universality coupled with a characteristic (and sometimes cantankerous) Yankee individuality, his passionate belief in progress coupled with a wistful and ardent nostalgia for the past, his earnest and fervent religiosity coupled with expressions of the mischievous and bawdy atmosphere of the late 19th century dance halls - leads to this inability to sharply define Ives's music into an acknowledged and consistent performance practice.


Many interpreters relate to distinct elements in Ives's personality, and their interpretations reflect these particular aspects, resulting in interpretations that say more about the psychological and musical constitution of the interpreter than they do about any totality of Ivesian expression.


A recent contribution to the body of recordings of Ives's piano music comes from Italian pianist Ciro Longobardi, a dedicated and distinguished interpreter of Ives's music and champion of 20th- century and contemporary music. In essence, Longobardi's recording displays a respectful devotion to Ives, and an integration and identification with his music that is achieved through many years of exposure and contemplation, aided by a powerful and extensive array of pianistic capabilities.


Which „Ives“ comes through in Longobari's interpretation? Longobardi seems to identify with the „Ives“ of Puritan Austerity - where expressions of divinity and transcendence are displayed through a sense of private, prudent and disciplined devotion. Longobardi's sculpts Ives's magnum opus , "Sonata no. 2, Concord Mass. 1840-60“ into a work with a classical dramaturgical sense of inevitability, a substantial achievement for a piece that can often seem unwieldy, chaotic and fractious in other hands. In the first movement of the sonata ("Emerson“), Longobardi plots the dramatic trajectory of the piece carefully, reserving the major climax for the golden mean. He avoids excessive opulence, and hysteric exuberance.

Many may find his interpretation a bit restrained, though through this restraint in individual sections of the movement he is able to build an overriding framework that gives the piece the sense of a unified totality. The second movement, "Hawthorne“, is playful and light-hearted. He avoids an affectation and fussiness that many interpreters are prone to, and presents the marches, ragtime-licks, and Presbyterian hymns in a straightforward and energetic way. His third movement, "the Alcotts“ is similar to Ives's own recording. The music is presented in a strikingly (and perhaps shockingly) simple way , absolutely without pretense or pompousness. His "Thoreau“ delves into the personal nature of Ives's commitment to Thoreau's writings, concentrating perhaps more on the role that Thoreau played in Ives's life after the premature and devastating death of his father, than on a musical translation of transcendental thought, or an onomatopoeic depiction of the natural environment at Walden Pond.


Longobardi (like his predecessor John Kirkpatrick- who worked extensively with Ives and premiered the Concord Sonata) decided to leave out the optional flute part, and instead uses his exceptional ability in voicing to conjure up the image of Thoreau playing his flute over Walden Pond at sunset.

Also on this recording are excellent interpretations of Ives's "Three-Page Sonata“, "Waltz-Rondo“ and "Varied Air and Variation“.

© Heather O'Donnell


Also recommended: Sciarrino/Ravel CD


SALVATORE SCIARRINO Due Notturni - Notturno N.3 - Notturno N.4 - Due Notturni Crudeli - De la Nuit MAURICE RAVEL Gaspard de la Nuit



Impressive accounts of masterly works of early and late 20 C. As clean and convincing a recorded performance of Gaspard as you'll find amongst the many rivals; the set of Sciarrino Nocturnes is certainly worth getting to know amongst this elusive composer's oeuvres, now well represented on disc [see Sciarrino's Capricci per violino solo]. They vary greatly in textures and mood, from quiet knocking on wood to the violence of the Notturni Crudelli. De la Nuit leads smoothly into Ondine...

Peter Grahame Woolf

See excellent video of Ciro Lombardi playing Ivan Fedele on LimenMusic



See Heather O'Donnell and Ives

and Scott Mortensen's comparative reviews of sixteen recordings of the Concord Sonata

Peter Grahame Woolf