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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)
Curt Thompson (violin)
Rodney Waters (piano)
Recorded at Duncan Recital Hall, Rice University Shepherd School of Music, Houston, Texas, January, May and December 1998
NAXOS 8.559119 [76.47]


As I wrote in my review of a rival issue of the Ives sonatas, on Bridge, played by Fulkerson and Shannon, the Ivesian aesthetic is at its most radically advanced in these four teeming works with their juxtapositions of the hymnal, revivalist and marching songs, laced with clusters and polychords. The tension engendered never lets up and the expressive depth is palpable, curious and affecting. It takes a fine pairing to get around some of the technical complexities, but even more so to explore the depth and peculiarities of the music without lapsing either into archness or into aloofness.

Thompson and Waters keep quite a strict rein on the First Sonata and they essay few of Fulkerson and Shannon’s more heartfelt gestures. The Naxos pairing isn’t helped by a sometimes troublesome acoustic – rather tiring and one that can impart a metallic hardness to Thompson’s tone (and he does make the odd intonational slip as well) and I find the new pairing somewhat trait laced and relatively humourless in comparison with the Bridge pairing or, say, Zukofsky and Kalisch on Nonesuch, another excellent duo. In the Second the sense of dialogue is that much more sharply etched by the Bridge pairing, with Shannon a far more assertive pianist, though I enjoyed the resinous attack in the second movement In The Barn and the way in which Thompson, who has written a doctoral thesis on Ives, bleaches his tone white in The Revival. Even here though the greater nuance of rivals tells the harder, as it does in matters of tone projection – in the Adagio of the Third, for example, where Fulkerson’s more variegated tonal resources score over Thompson’s quick and somewhat monochrome playing.

I wouldn’t want to underestimate this new pairing’s perception though, as they do bring numerous thoughtful and well-considered moments to this kaleidoscopic scores. I think of the Allegro of the Third where, though Waters doesn’t shape with as much decisiveness as Shannon, he stabs the bass notes with great verve allowing Thompson to slide in unobtrusively. Or in the Allegro of the Fourth, where youthful spirits pay dividends and in the quick linearity of their approach to the Largo where they "balance" a Sonata that can easily become one long slow movement surrounded by two brisk Allegros.

Newcomers to Ives’ unique Violin Sonatas will find much to enjoy here but as a recommendation I would go for the Bridge pairing. Their richness and depth of response are superior and their instrumental control palpably more engaged.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Colin Clarke


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