Steffen Schleiermacher (piano)
Yeon-Hee Kwak (cor anglais)
Ingo Goritzki (bass drum)
Recorded 8-11 February 2002
CD No: DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 307 1143-2 Duration: Reviewed: December 2002
Charles Ives Complete Music for String Quartet
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
I sometimes wonder if Schoenbergs approbation of Ives did the latter any real favours. After all, Schoenberg, however significant a composer he was, remains one of the least friendly composers as far as the box office is concerned (Verklärte Nacht and Gurrelieder aside).
Charles Ivess innovations, his seemingly cluttered experiments, his use of quotation (from indigenous folk-tunes to Beethovens Fifth!) and his visionary ability to suggest and collide his childhood (Holidays Symphony) and look beyond ourselves (The Unanswered Question) has his detractors seeing him, at best, as eccentric. This CD brings maximum contrast from the off first comes the 90-second Scherzo, gnarled and angular, from a European acolyte of radical Schoenberg maybe, which is followed by the hymnal opening of the First Quartet, music that became the third movement of Ivess remarkable Fourth Symphony, and which could easily have been composed by Dvorak in America, save the harmony wouldnt have slipped so much! This Quartet, completed in 1902, is in the conventional four movements. The second is a pleasing take on folksong, sometimes half-heard as in the Second Symphony; the slow movement sings sweetly and the Finale marches to a church gathering.
In the First Quartet, Ives can be heard tweaking Mendelssohn, Schumann and Dvorak. Adagio sostenuto (quartet plus cor anglais and piano) is more sea-misty and melodically fragmentary more Ivesian if you will. Of the four pieces for quartet and piano, the two called Largo risoluto are not only recognisably Ivesian and thus more American Ives invented American Music both are also passionate and exhaustively modern. The Adagio cantabile is more intimate and sparing, more distant. Halloween scampers to string clusters and a disruptive piano before a recognisable cadence heralds some bass drum bangs.
The most substantial work is the half-hour Second Quartet written over several years to 1913, and thus contemporaneous with the concept of the all-embracing and free Fourth Symphony. It vividly encapsulates Ivess eclectic mix. The Quartets second movement, Arguments, can be heard as anticipating the densest Schoenberg, and beyond him. The first movement also has looks forward, yet I cant help feeling it would be even stronger if Ives had avoided one or two churchy references. The Call of the Mountains, the last movement, is a very personal, restrained and slow memorial to a tranquil haven, maybe something unattainable.
This superbly played and recorded CD three of the Leipzig Quartets members are previously first-desk players in the Gewandhaus Orchestra offers a very useful complete collection that helps add to our appreciation of Ives. Wolfgang Rathert writes a sympathetic and informed booklet note. I strongly recommend the Leipzig Qs account of Mendelssohns Opp.12 & 13 [MDG 307 1055-2]. Schumanns three quartets would be very welcome too.