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Charles IVES (1874–1954)
The Light That is Felt: Songs of Charles Ives
Songs my Mother Taught Me (1901) [2:56]; Tom Sails Away (1917) [2:38]; The Housatonic at Stockbridge (1921) [3:06]; The Greatest Man (1921) [1:20]; West London (1921) [2:42]; The “Incantation” (1921) [1:38]; Du bist wie eine Blume (1897) [1:14]; Down East (1919) [3:27]; The Children’s Hour (1913) [1:49]; Where the eagle cannot see (1906) [1:23]; General William Booth enters into Heaven (1914) [5:38]; The Things our Fathers Loved (and the greatest of these was Liberty) (1917) [1:39]; Two Little Flowers (1921) [1:21]; August (1920) [2:32]; September (1920) [0:55]; December (1920) [1:12]; The Light That is Felt (1903) [2:20]; Ann Street (1921) [0:52]; Evening (1921) [1:34]; The Sea of Sleep (1903) [1:00]; Like a Sick Eagle (1920) [2:08]; Swimmers (1915) [1:19]; Watchman! (1913) [1:27]; Feldeinsamkeit (1898) [3:20]; The New River (1921) [0:55]; Minnelied (1901) [1:29]; Romanzo (di Central Park) (1911) [2:12]
Susan Narucki (soprano); Donald Berman (piano)
rec. 19–20 March 2008, The Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, State University of New York. DDD


Experience Classicsonline

It seems to be an almost impossible task to choose from Ives’s two hundred, or so, songs in order to make a satisfactory and satisfying recital on disk. Do you choose the early, easier textured, songs, which are interesting but leave you wanting less, or do you go for the later, big philosophical songs, which, after two or three, leave you drained? Most singers choose a selection of both, hoping that when the programme order is decided it will make a good recital. This is a very good collection of songs, taken from the whole of Ives’ career, ranging from delicate and intimate settings – Two Little Flowers – to the great thoughts of Life, Love, Liberty and the American Way – The Things our Fathers Loved (and the greatest of these was Liberty).

Over the years I’ve collected many anthology LPs and CDs of Ives’ songs. Although most are by male singers a few female voices have presented this music – most notably Jan DeGaetani, Evelyn Lear and the incomparable Marni Nixon – all with varying degrees of success. That Susan Narucki doesn’t quite succeed in every song isn’t a criticism of her, for she is an admirable interpreter of this music. It’s just that a lot of Ives’ songs are so obviously written from a man’s point of view, and are obviously men’s songs. The lighter female voice simply cannot carry the music. Thus, a song such as the astonishing General William Booth enters into Heaven loses a lot of its power, and insanity when sung in the treble clef! And, make no mistake, hysteria and insanity seem to pervade this music which, surely, Ives wrote with his tongue very firmly in his cheek whereas Vachel Lindsay wrote his poem with a very straight face. However, here Narucki gives a really well focused performance of the less manic sections. I especially loved her way with the word shriek! That said, the wilder portions are too tame, and I am afraid that her pianist seems less happy here than elsewhere. The best recording of this song I’ve ever heard, and, I suspect, the one nearest to Ives’ idea of the piece is by the great Donald Gramm, in a 2 LP set of American songs (Desto 6411/6412). There he uses every vocal device known to singers - from Sprechstimme to shouting, screaming and even singing. His accompanist fully enters into the spirit of the interpretation. His is a phenomenal account. 

Narucki starts well with the gentlest, most moving, account of Songs my Mother Taught Me.  It’s followed by a superb Tom Sails Away. She sings The Greatest Man as it should be, with a childlike wonder – because the greatest man is her dad! Down East is a song where the words are trying to catch a memory. Here Narucki is in her element, thoughtful and discreet, with a subtle accompaniment from Berman. Ann Street is a short song about a short street (width of same, Ten feet) yet it contains some of Ives’s most unusual things! Swimmers is a vast seascape and an exhausting sing despite its brevity. It receives a fabulously unbuttoned performance. 

The main point about this disk is that there are many good things in it. Even though there are some failures that’s also true of some of the single discs of Ives songs by Fischer–Dieskau and many others. The burning question is: ‘Is this disk worth having?’ I have to say ‘yes’ because Narucki is a very musical singer who does have original ideas as to how this music should be performed. 

The accompanying booklet contains a very interesting, long, essay on the composer by the performers and there are full texts and translations. The recorded sound is clear and shows a good relation between the two performers. This is certainly a satisfying addition to any collection of the recorded Ives. 

Bob Briggs



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