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Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Songs Volume 1
“1, 2, 3 “ (1921) [0:34]; Abide with Me. (1897) [3:42]; Aeschylus and Sophocles (1922) [4:39]; Afterglow (1919) [2:25]; Allegro (1899) [2:20]; The All-Enduring. Amphion (1896) [7:12]; Ann Street (1921) [0:57]; At Parting (1899) [2:05]; At Sea (1921) [1:25]; At the River (1916) [2:09]; August (1920) [3:02]; Autumn (1907) [2:37]; Because of You (1899) [3:01]; Because Thou Art (1901) [2:25]; Berceuse (1903) [1:59]; The Cage(1906) [1:04]; The Camp Meeting (1912) [4:44]; Canon I (1893) [1:03]; Canon II (1894) [1:14]; Chanson de Florian (1898) [2:00]; Charlie Rutlage (1920) [2:41]; The Children's Hour (1912) [2:28]; (Edies’s) Christmas Carol (1925) [3:46]; A Christmas Carol (1894) [2:44]; The Circus Band (1894) [2:11]; The Collection (1920) [3:00]; Country Celestial (1897) [3:44]; Cradle Song (1919) [2:23]
For artists/recording information see below

NAXOS 8.559269 [74:52]

Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Songs Volume 2
December (1913) [1:10 Disclosure (1921) [1:14]; Down East (1910) [3:12]; Dreams (1897) [4:01]; Du alte Mutter (1902) [2:27]; Du bist wie eine Blume (1897) [1:50]; Élégie (1901) [4:56]; The Ending Year (1902) [3:02]; Evening (1921) [2:05]; Evidence (1910) [1:44]; Eyes so Dark (1902) [2:09]; Far from my Heav’nly Home (1893) [4:28]; Far in the Wood (1900) [1:46]; A Farewell to Land (1909) [1:53]; La Fede (1920) [0:54]; Feldeinsamkeit (1898) [2:56]; Flag Song (1900) [2:23]; Forward into Light (1902) [4:00]; Friendship (1898) [3:23]; Frühlingslied (1898) [2:06]; General William Booth Enters into Heaven (1914) [5:37]; God Bless and Keep Thee (1898) [2:30]; Grace (1900) [1:39]; Grantchester (1920) [3:12]; The Greatest Man (1921) [1:25]; Gruss (1898) [1:35];
Lielle Berman (soprano); Heather Buck (soprano); Jennifer Casey Cabot (soprano); Sarah Jakubiak (soprano); Sumi Kittelberger (soprano); Janna Baty (mezzo); Tamara Mumford (mezzo); Mary Phillips (mezzo); Leah Wool (mezzo); Ian Howell (counter-tenor); Matthew Plenk (tenor); Kenneth Tarver (tenor); Michael Cavalieri (baritone); Robert Gardner (baritone); Patrick Carfizzi (bass-baritone); David Pittsinger (bass)
Biava String Quartet; Frederick Teadro (organ); Eric Trudel (piano); Laura Garritson (piano); J J Penna (piano); Douglas Dickson (piano)
rec. Sprague Hall, Yale University, New Haven, USA, May-June 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.559270 [67:37]


Experience Classicsonline

It is taking a long time for singers and the public to appreciate the full extent and importance of Ives’ output of songs. Not as large as Schubert maybe, but still a major achievement. The title alone of the main published source – “114 Songs” (1922) – gives an idea of its scope but there are in fact nearly 200 songs in all. Surprisingly, however, this appears to be the first attempt to record the completed songs in their entirety and, whatever shortcomings there may be in its realisation, this series must be an issue of major importance for anyone with an interest in Ives or indeed in song or in American music in general.

Previous recordings of the songs have usually involved a single singer. A small number of songs have found their way onto many of these discs. Of those on the present discs, “General William Booth enters into Heaven”, “The Greatest Man”, “The Circus Band” and “Ann Street” are amongst this group. What is remarkable is the number of what are to me at least wholly unfamiliar. It may at first seem arbitrary for Naxos to have put the songs into alphabetical order, and indeed it does lead to some strange companions, but the alternatives of arranging them by author, theme or date would run a much greater risk of monotony. On the whole I have no doubt that Naxos have chosen the better option. It means that we hear early songs strongly rooted in American domestic and social music of the late nineteenth century alongside songs completed towards the end of his active composing life; the latter are of a drastically different character. This may be disconcerting at times but constantly draws attention to the Ives’ range as a composer. 

Although all were recorded at Yale University, Naxos have divided the songs between a large group of singers and pianists, mainly young Americans. They have even made use of an organ and a string quartet in three instances. Overall the listener can have no doubt of the seriousness with which the project has been undertaken. Each disc has a brief but helpful introduction to each song as well as much longer biographies and photographs of the performers. 

All of this is immensely praiseworthy, and I hope that the somewhat less enthusiastic comments which follow will not discourage intending purchasers too much. It would be good to think that the existence of this set may mean that in a few years there will be alternative complete cycles of these songs. This was the case following for instance the first complete recordings of the Bach Cantatas and Wagner’s Ring, but for the present these discs and those that follow stand alone to demonstrate the marvellous range of Ives’ achievement in song. 

My main concern here is perhaps to a large degree an almost inevitable consequence of the unfamiliarity of many, or even of most, of these songs. It is that the performances of individual songs tend often to be generalised rather than characterised as they would be if the performers had had a longer period to get to know them. It is notable that it is the better known songs that receive the more convincing performances. There is however a general tendency towards a form of vocalisation which stresses the musical line rather than the words. Indeed few of the singers appear to concentrate sufficiently on diction or vocal character. Naxos make the listener’s task more difficult by making the words available only on-line rather than in the booklet. I am surely not alone in finding this an irritating practice, and it would surely have been preferable to have put the lengthy biographies of all the performers on line and printed the words instead. The latter are likely to be consulted more frequently and to add more to the listener’s enjoyment and understanding. The poor diction is partly caused and certainly exacerbated by the excessive vibrato of many of the singers, and by a general inability or lack of desire to sing or play very quietly. This is something the composer frequently directs and the lack of it adds to a disappointing lack of character in many of the songs. 

So this is not the moment to abandon long treasured recordings by such singers as Helen Boatwright, Fischer-Dieskau or Marni Nixon, or more recent versions by Henry Herford or Gerald Finley. I will however certainly return to these new recordings for the many novelties which they include, and for the way in which they demonstrate the range and quality of Ives’ songs.

John Sheppard


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