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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



Charles IVES (1874-1954)

Violin Sonata No 1 (1902-08)
Violin Sonata No 2 (1902-09)
Violin Sonata No 3 (1905-14)
Violin Sonata No 4 (1906-15)
Gregory Fulkerson (violin)
Robert Shannon (piano)
Recorded at the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, May-June 1989
BRIDGE BCD 9024 [2 CDs: 79.52]



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Dating from between the years 1902-15 these four violin sonatas are amongst the greatest of all Ives’ chamber works and present the Ivesian aesthetic in all its radical and manifold complexity. The juxtaposition of hymn tunes and the technical means open to him to explore such material – clusters, polychords etc – give the sonatas a fruitful tension, technical and expressive, that vests them with intense, frequently speculative depth.

The intriguing canonic implications of the piano writing in the first movement of the First Sonata serve notice of Ives’ seriousness; this movement is strong-willed, with violin light and piano severe, quilted quotations stitched into the score and a magical return to the opening theme. The violin enters the Largo cantabile second movement muted, but the piano drives from piano to a strong forte, scraps of tunes shed throughout – The Old Oaken Bucket, Tramp Tramp, Tramp – whereupon the violin’s reminiscences are violently attacked by the raging, torrential piano clusters for a brief moment before the violin muses on. The final movement, a longish Allegro, opens with the piano in rather martial fashion and the violin correspondingly pliant; the violin becomes increasingly lyrical, with a sense of syncopation never far away and rhythmic displacements ever possible. The close of the work is one of elegiac serenity, with an extreme diminuendo from Fulkerson – highly effective – and beautifully simple, spaced chords from Shannon’s piano. The Second Sonata had an even slightly longer gestation period, dating from 1902-09. The opening movement, Autumn, veers between tempo extremes with melodies of optimum elasticity, and a battle of wits is immediately set up between instruments. After an abrupt start the second movement, In The Barn, soon becomes drenched in barnyard Americana, sailors’ hornpipes and syncopated tomfoolery, country fiddle playing. Here Fulkerson is adept at hardening his tone – and with no sign of fakery; nothing would destroy the characterisation more quickly here than some arch fiddling. In fact both men relish the teasing accents and rhythms here and elsewhere. The final movement, a set of variations, is extremely quiet and intense, gathering in spiritual depth before expanding in tempo and dynamics and overt lyricism. The hymn tunes become fervently rapturous, the piano’s heady dynamism and violin’s hypnotic exhortations embodying powerful truths before slowly winding down in noble simplicity.

The Third of the quartet of sonatas was written and revised between the years 1905-14. There is an alternating sense of strength and lyric ardour in the opening movement, the piano adding a dissonance and flair under the violin’s ever-arching lyricism. Some ingenuous interludes for the piano act as musical buffers, as earlier themes are revisited by both instruments. There’s tremendous drive to the Allegro with the brio intensified by Fulkerson’s deliciously quick portamanti – entirely apt as well. This is by some way the longest of the sonatas, lasting a good half an hour; the weight falls in the two outer movements. The listless, rather fragmentary start to the Adagio cantabile final movement hints at darker directions – but little moments of aspirational simplicity manage occasionally to emerge and slowly the hymn tune unravels with a clarifying and cleansing beauty that seems to beatify all the struggle that has preceded it. Szigeti once recorded the Fourth Sonata, Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting. Its programmatic generosity is always delightful and never more so than here. There is something passionately aloof about the writing in the second movement – the work lasts barely eleven minutes – and also some wild clustered piano, boisterous and child-wild – leading onto some simpler material including, most unusually in these works, a little pizzicato episode. The final statement of the hymn theme emerges with all Ives’ reverential nostalgia. His ingenious vitality is given full rein as the work finishes, quirkiness and affection coalescing into simplicity, even with the question mark at the very end.

There is only one problem with this Bridge release. Unfortunately the recording has spilled over to a second CD – the two last 79.52 in total. Competition comes in the form of Hans Heinz Schneeberger and Daniel Cholette on ECM and they are on one 76 minute CD. Bridge is still offering this Fulkerson-Shannon traversal at full price [around £22], which makes it ungenerous in the extreme. I would urge them seriously to reconsider and to issue this as a specially priced single (which is effectively what it is). Fulkerson and Shannon’s superbly idiomatic performances surely deserve no less.

Jonathan Woolf



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