American Classics - Ives: Songs Vol 1

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For this Volume 1 of the songs of Charles Ives (the series will include all of the songs he completed), Naxos employed the services of...
For this Volume 1 of the songs of Charles Ives (the series will include all of the songs he completed), Naxos employed the services of no less than 13 singers, a potentially risky decision that happily turns out very well. All of the soloists, who represent all voice-parts (including countertenor in two selections), are first-rate singers, many quite young with blooming opera careers, each with a clear and compelling competence in how to sing songs. And these aren't just any songs, but some of the most fascinating, engaging, joyful, humorous, nostalgic, sentimental, artfully written songs in the repertoire.

The programming scheme is to present the songs alphabetically--not only is this handy if you want to find a particular song, but it also happens to create a very satisfying recital with an entertaining mix of styles, texts, and themes. This volume begins perfectly with "1, 2, 3" and ends (also appropriately!) with "Cradle Song", and in between we get such gems as "Aeschylus and Sophocles" (1922), "At Sea" (1921), "At the River" (1916), "Autumn" (1907), "The Cage" (1906), "The Camp Meeting" (1912), "Charlie Rutlage" (1920), "The Circus Band" (1894), and the lovely parlor-songs "Because of You" (1898) and "Because Thou Art" (1901).

Some singers are better than others at articulating the words--particularly important here since the texts are provided only online--and naturally, with this variety of voices, timbres, and techniques, some will appeal more than others to a given listener. For instance, I found Lielle Berman just a bit too "church-soprano-ish" in "The Collection", likewise baritone Patrick Carfizzi's southern accent for "Charlie Rutlage" is somewhat forced and inauthentic, and while it's well sung, to me, countertenor Ian Howell's "A Christmas Carol" is just too precious for its own good. But these are minor, personal quibbles in what overall is an extraordinarily satisfying, consummately entertaining, and consistently thoughtful collaboration that's always respectful of both the serious and humorous, the simple and the complex, the overtly melodious and abstract aspects of these often challenging songs.

Highlights are many, but include all four of bass David Pittsinger's songs, mezzo Leah Wool's "Ann Street", tenor Kenneth Tarver's "At Parting", baritone Robert Gardner's "The Cage" and "The Circus Band", soprano Sara Jakubiak's "Abide with Me" and "At the River"--and I could go on. You might think that listening to 29 Ives songs at one sitting would be a bit much, but thanks to these terrific singers, their fine accompanists, and to Ives' wildly, wonderfully varied, expert songwriting, it's just a pure pleasure--and you'll even find yourself smiling many times throughout.

There have been several excellent, highly recommended Ives song compilations issued on disc, including a complete edition from the early-1990s on Albany, a single-disc program on Decca (type Q3671 in Search Reviews), and two first-rate collections (61 songs all together) from Gerald Finley on Hyperion (for reviews, type Q9249 and Q11530), and this one promises to join them as an essential addition to every Ives and American song listening library. On to Volume 2!

--David Vernier,

Product Description:

  • Release Date: June 24, 2008

  • UPC: 636943926925

  • Catalog Number: 8559269

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Charles Ives, Edith Osborne Ives

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Biava String Quartet

  • Performer: David Pittsinger, Douglas Dickson, Eric Trudel, Frederick Teardo, Ian Howell, J. J. Penna, Jennifer Casey Cabot, Kenneth Tarver, Laura Garritson, Leah Wool, Lielle Berman, Mary Phillips, Matthew Plenk, Patrick Carfizzi, Robert Gardiner, Sara Jakubiak, Tamara Mumford