Mead's two-disc collection of piano works is an excellent introduction to Ives' music for piano. Along with his excellent readings of the First Piano Sonata and Second Piano Sonata, this set includes a selection of shorter works. Perhaps most notable among these is Mead's wonderful reading of the "Three Page Sonata." His reading is much quicker than Berman's (6.10 compared 8.00). But, rather than sounding rushed, Mead's tempo is entirely convincing and the whole work is vividly characterized. Mead is also adept at realizing the fantastical, evocative elements in this music. Listen to his "Varied Air and Variations." It's haunting. The only downside to these performances is the quality of recorded sound. The recording sounds muffled. Recommended, as long as you don't mind sub-par sound.
Charles Ives, piano / "Ives Plays Ives" (CRI CD 810) This recording includes:
This recording collects the complete extant recordings that Charles Ives ever made of himself playing the piano. Most of the disc consists of fragments rather than complete works. Also, the sound quality varies from bad to barely listenable. (The recordings were made from 1933 to 1943.) However, the longest work included on the disc is a complete take of "The Alcotts," from the Second Piano Sonata. And there are a few other examples of Ives' breath-taking artistry at the piano, despite the sonic limitations of the recordings.
Donald Berman / "The Unknown Ives" (CRI CD 811) This recordings includes:
This recording collects some of the best of Ives' piano works--aside from the sonatas. Berman's performances are very idiomatic and convincing. The Ruggles works are excellent as well. Recommended.
These shorter works offer even more reason to track down Coleman's fine recording of the First Sonata. Again, some of these are more meditative than you might expect, but Coleman's performances are consistently convincing. I especially like her rendition of Study No. 23, with it's borrowings from "Hello, Ma Baby!" The "Varied Air & Variations" is excellent too, full of billowy, diaphanous notes and mysterious pauses.
Coleman offers very strong performances of the "Three Page Sonata" and the Emerson Transcriptions. Very much like her reading of the "Concord" Sonata, these are dark-chocolate performances, rich and meditative. [I must admit that I don't see the connection between the performances and the CD cover photo with it's nondescript, inhuman skyscraper towering over the treetops. Oh well. It certainly is an interesting image, regardless of any connection that eludes me.]
Shura Cherkassky / "80th Birthday Recital from Carnegie Hall" (Decca 433 654-2DH) This recording includes Ives' "Three Page Sonata," and works by Bach, Schumann, Chopin, Hofmann, Tchaikovsky, and Gould.
Cherkassky turns in a bravura, high-voltage performance of the "Three Page Sonata." Eighty years old or no, this guy can pound the piano! This isn't the most nuanced of performances; others like Mead find a path that's more "inside" the music. But this is undeniably exciting, brilliant pianism, and the audience roars with approval as the performance ends.
This recording includes:
Pianist Joel Sachs turns in a superb performance of the "Five Take-Offs." Each of these short pieces has an improvisatory quality--even if they are not, strictly speaking, improvised. The set varies enormously in tone from piece to piece, from gentle ruminations to clangourous explorations. Taken as a whole, the set offers a surprisingly well-rounded picture of Ives' approach to composition for the piano. The final set on the disc is one of Ives' most overtly experimental works, "Three Quarter-Tone Pieces." In this piano duo, one of the pianos is tuned a quarter-tone apart from the other. The effect can be unsettling, as if you were hearing music through shimmering water. At other times, the music sounds otherworldly, evoking memories of the Theremin (and science-fiction movies from the fifties). And sometimes you might find yourself laughing aloud. For example, when Ives quotes "America" in the final movement, it's reminiscent of his playful "Variations on America" for organ from his teenage years, now transmuted once again. (Incidentally, in the same movement Ives also quotes "La Marseillaise," since he'd composed the work for a concert of the Franco-American Musical Society!)
This pioneering set, which originally appeared on Desto Records, features all of Ives' works for piano in a three-disc budget-priced collection. Taken as a whole, the set is quite impressive. But, in most cases, I find Mead and Berman more persuasive. (The Mandel recordings are also marred by poor sound.)
Anthony de Mare / "Wizards and Wildmen" (CRI 837) This recording includes piano works by Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison. It also includes the following works by Charles Ives:
Anthony de Mare's recording contain's four works by Charles Ives, and they are all very fine performances. But what makes this disc most compelling is the chance to hear Ives' works along with the piano music of two of his closest musical friends and advocates, Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison. As such, this disc provides an excellent background andcontext for Ives' piano works. The recorded sound is excellent, and the liner notes by Bob Gilmore are particularly effective at explaining the relationships between these men and their works.
Luise Vosgerchain's traversal of the "Three Page Sonata" is heavy on the mystery. She also uses a celeste, which adds to its otherworldly quality. This is a solid performance--even if it isn't earth-shattering. It's a performance that adds another aspect to a varied and interesting program. It's worth tracking this LP down.
Other recordings of Ives' piano music include: