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Charles IVES
Complete Works for Violin and Piano.
Pre-First Violin Sonata. Largo. Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-4.

Nobu Wakabayashi (violin); Thomas Wise (piano).
Arte Nova 74321 75495-2 (two discs] [DDD] [91'18]
 Bargain Price

Nobu Wakabayashi is a Japanese violinist who has a successful run of awards and prizes under her belt. She presents a useful two-disc set of Ives' works for violin and piano (which actually run to about ninety minutes, leaving both discs with short playing times).

The Violin Sonatas present the intimate, lyrical side of Ives' personality. The works on this set date from 1899-1901 (the so-called 'Pre-First' violin sonata) to 1914-16 (the Fourth Sonata, subtitled 'Children's Day at the Camp Meeting'). Wakabayashi has a pleasant, warm sound that is in general well reproduced here.

By far the most successful aspect of Wakabayashi's performances is her willingness to react to Ives' nostalgic side. Certainly, the final Adagio of the Third Sonata finds her heart firmly in her bow, while in the first movement (another Adagio) she achieves an apt sense of freedom and space. Her wistful phrasing in the so-called 'Pre-First' Sonata is most affecting.

Both players bring out the Copland-like elements of the First Sonata. Thomas Wise is a fine, sensitive accompanist throughout, who relishes his chances to come into his own (as in the Fourth Sonata, where both players also 'swing' the last movement just the right amount). The Second Sonata (1907-12) exemplifies Ives' propensity for quotation, here the hymns and revival tunes from Camp Meetings in New England in the 1870's and 80's. Ives gives each movement a title (this piece is unique amongst his Violin Sonatas in this way). Both players let their hair down in the second movement, 'In the Barn', but it is in the whispered, broken phrases of 'The Revival' that Wakabayashi and Wise again show their strength.

The ECM Ives disc by Schneeberger and Cholette, which contains the four numbered sonatas, is in the final analysis superior (even if its one disc is still substantially more expensive that Arte Nova's two). However this in no way detracts from the fact that I hope to encounter Miss Wakabayashi's playing again: she clearly feels great affection for this fascinating music.


Colin Clarke



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