Selected Recordings for Comparison:
Ives: "Concord" Sonata
Marc-André Hamelin (New World
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (Warner Classics
John Kirkpatrick (Columbia Stereo LP
MS 7192, nla)
Barber: Piano Sonata
Vladimir Horowitz (RCA Gold Seal 60377-2-RG)
To view more information about
Ivesí "Concord" Sonata,
go to: http://www.musicweb-international.com/Ives/WK_Piano_Sonata_2.htm
Ives advocate and scholar
John Kirkpatrick recorded the "Concord"
sonata twice. After he premiered the
work, he made the first recording in
1948 and later re-recorded it in stereo
in 1968. As he was learning the piece,
he noted that Ives was remarkably elusive
about providing instructions for playing
the sonata. When Kirkpatrick would ask
Ives about a particular passage, the
composer would sit down at the piano
bench and begin playing. Sometimes heíd
play the passage in question; usually
he wouldnít. In either case, Ives would
find a way to avoid talking about it.
Ives wanted performers to bring their
own predilections and assumptions to
each performance. Kirkpatrick faced
another difficulty learning the "Concord":
Ives continually revised it. In fact,
Ives saw the "Concord" as
a never-ending work in progress. In
his Memos (Norton), he made the
following remarks about the sonata:
"I don't know as I shall ever write
[my improvisations] out, as it may take
away the daily pleasure of playing this
music and seeing it grow and feeling
that it is not finished ... I may always
have the pleasure of not finishing it
..." This unfinished, improvisatory
quality is what makes this work defy
any single interpretation, by any pianist
ó even Ives himself. An "ultimate"
version is clearly the last thing that
he had in mind.
With this new recording
Marc-André Hamelinís joins Kirkpatrick
as the only other pianist to have recorded
the "Concord" twice. Hamelin
made his first recording of the work
for New World Records in 1988. Itís
a staggering, Olympian performance.
In his artistic manifesto Essays
Before a Sonata, Ives imagines Emerson
as someone who is so "intensely
on the lookout for the trail of his
star that he has no time to stop and
retrace his footprints." On the New
World recording, Hamelin not only looks
up at the sky, he launches into the
stratosphere. Itís a performance that
makes one think of space travel: planets,
meteors, stars. All go coursing by in
So, how does this new
version on Hyperion compare? The overall
tone of this recording is much more
inward and reflective, if no less intense.
Whereas Hamelinís first recording emphasized
the trailblazing aspects of the work
ó especially in the "Emerson"
and "Hawthorne" movements,
this recording seems more weighted toward
the poetry of "The Alcotts"
and "Thoreau." But this isnít
glib lyricism. Rather, the effect is
one of a pianist who is plumbing the
depths of the work. Thereís an enormous
stillness here, a profound, dark-hued
quiet. Itís a tribute to Hamelinís long
involvement with this music that he
can make two recordings that offer such
distinct interpretations and still have
both of them be so entirely convincing.
This recording of the
"Concord" joins a crowded
field. In fact, there have been three
new recordings of the "Concord"
issued in this year alone, including
a widely-praised version by Pierre-Laurent
Aimard. Aimardís reading is compelling.
His approach might be characterized
as "modern", contrasted with
Hamelinís more "romantic"
approach, although these broad generalizations
tend to fail music as idiosyncratic
as Ivesí. In any case, I prefer Hamelin.
In both of his recordings, Hamelin seems
more attuned to Ivesí sound-world than
any other pianist Iíve heard.
Hamelin also offers
a bravura performance of the Barber
Sonata. Hamelinís amazing technique
is on full display in this performance,
although he sacrifices nothing in terms
of color and atmosphere. Perhaps the
most well-known recording of the Barber
Sonata is the one by Horowitz. Horowitz
premiered the work, and he made the
first recording in 1952. This recording
yields nothing to that legendary version.
Charles Ives Website