A notably successful disc. It’s timed to
coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Ives’ death in
May 1954 and couples the kaleidoscopic and teeming Concord Sonata
with seventeen songs (out of 114), many set to the composer’s
own words. Aimard and Graham are on first-rate form throughout
in the songs and the French pianist bears the weight of the sonata’s
unremitting demands with conspicuous success, aided by the warm
acoustic of Vienna’s Grosser Saal.
Though he’s been playing the Sonata for
many years there is no lessening of visceral impact. Taking a
quartet of nineteenth century literary Americans – Emerson,
Hawthorne, Alcott and Thoreau – the sonata teems with transcendentalism
and dissonance, a galvanizing and often cripplingly difficult
world within a world. The sonata embeds conversational excesses,
popular song, hymn tunes, Ragtime, a tough swing, heroic bell
peals, tremendous rhythmic incision (especially in Hawthorne)
and moments of inscape – vistas of overwhelming realisation
and simplicity. These moods and reflections are presented in tumultuous
conjunction and the pianist must realise the variousness of the
Sonata with utter fidelity, a responsibility Aimard discharges
with fluid intelligence and unforgettable virtuosity. To cap it
all we have the advantage of violist Tabea Zimmermann in the optional
sliver that ends Emerson and flautist Emmanuel Pahud in Thoreau.
Aimard joins Susan Graham in the songs: kaleidoscopic
evocations, nostalgic, ironic, dramatic, theatrical and introspective.
They bring out the languor and then the corresponding clangour
of The Housatonic at Stockbridge in all its restless assertiveness.
They are wonderfully alive to the Edwardiana and whistling (Graham)
of Memories and to the bristling fun of “1,2,3”. Ives’s
romanticism is best explored in a setting such as Songs my mother
taught me and the buoyant, marching bandery and cocky revels to
which he was so attuned in The Circus band. In Ann Street we even
hear Aimard’s spoken contribution from the keyboard. Susan
Graham is a particularly eloquent guide to this repertoire. As
she showed in her Ned Rorem disc she has a beautifully modulated
voice and subtle inflective devices to really put across these
kind of songs. Here and there I found moments when I felt her
just slightly too artful – but they are few – and
she never stints their full vocabulary and largesse of feeling
that they engender – and inspire.