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Nielsen, Ives, Mcdonald / Andrew Rangell

Release Date: 05/12/2009 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9295   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Carl NielsenCharles IvesJohn McDonald
Performer:  Andrew Rangell
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

NIELSEN Suite, “Luciferian.” MCDONALD Meditation before a Sonata: Dew Cloth, Dream Drapery. IVES Piano Sonata No. 1 Andrew Rangell (pn) BRIDGE 9295 (68:56)

Andrew Rangell has recorded a wide variety of music for the Bridge and Dorian labels. The present disc is a particularly titillating offering, though. Nielsen’s piano Read more music deserves to be better known; the McDonald introduces a composer who is, allegedly, “a composer who tries to play the piano and a pianist who tries to compose” (according to his biography in the booklet, at least); and just about any Ives is good enough to pique my interest.

The Nielsen Suite is relatively often recorded, interpreters including Leif Ove Andsnes on Virgin. Written in 1919, the Suite is dedicated to Artur Schnabel. The composer nicknamed it “Luciferian” in recognition of the light bearer, Lucifer, a Greek mythological star that announced the day. The possible misinterpretation of the subtitle led to the “Luciferian” description being dropped, but it is generally reinstated today. Rangell makes paralle ls in his notes between Nielsen and late Beethoven on both the larger level (the sequence of movements) and on the smaller (the prevalence of polyphony). The impression is initially acerbic, but moments of softening provide both variety and, for some perhaps, entry points. The second movement could easily veer towards the quaint, but Rangell avoids any suggestion of the music box. All is concentration, something Rangell needs in spades to project Nielsen’s sense of space in the troubled Molto adagio e patético third movement. That Nielsen follows this with the childlike Allegretto innocente shows real compositional daring, a fact highlighted when the latter is as charmingly played as here. The brief, staccato Allegro vivo acts as something of a bridge to the finale. This last movement is a distinctly harder nut to crack.

The McDonald was the result of a request from Rangell for a work to be played with Ives’s “Concord” Sonata. Here, he tests it against the First Sonata instead. The precompositional ideas of McDonald’s work seem remarkably Ivesian, as he asks us to consider a misty scene into which the observer imagines a sequence of themes from sources such as Stephen Foster and Negro spirituals. The “Dew Cloth” of the title refers to the mist that covers the mind and ear with its “Dream Drapery,” stopping us from observing the tunes with any clarity. Ives is plundered, too, both “Concord” and a 1929 Ives harmonization of the Spiritual, In the Morning . If all this implies Impressionism, then it is not far wrong. Messiaen is also part of the mix.

Finally, the 40-minute Ives First Sonata. This piece was presumed lost for a while after Ives’s fair copy was mailed to a colleague and never arrived. The manuscript was rescued from earlier, extant, versions by the composer Lou Harrison, and it is largely that score that is heard here, with a few tweaks from Rangell. The five movements are symmetrically arranged around the central Largo (itself a tripartite Largo-Allegro-Largo) on What a friend we have in Jesus . Two ragtime movements surround it, which are themselves linked by the tunes Happy Am I, Bringing in the Sheaves , and Welcome Voice . The extended first movement climaxes on the hymn-tune Lebanon , which is hinted at throughout its trajectory. There are moments of heightened beauty set against hyper-energized marches. Rangell projects a sense of struggle in the more technically challenging moments that, in this context, feels absolutely right, for it often feels as if Ives is himself testing musical boundaries. The penultimate movement breathes exhilaration. More, Rangell’s keen appreciation of the lyrical side of Ives’s nature means that contrasts are keenly felt. Although I retain admiration for Philip Mead’s Ives-playing on Metier (92037), Rangell offers a superb account.

Tantalizing repertoire, expertly programmed, and extremely well played and recorded. Recommended.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

Suite for Piano, FS 91/Op. 45 "Luciferian" by Carl Nielsen
Performer:  Andrew Rangell (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919-1920; Denmark 
Sonata for Piano no 1 by Charles Ives
Performer:  Andrew Rangell (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1901-1909; USA 
Meditation Before A Sonata, Op. 406 by John McDonald
Performer:  Andrew Rangell (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2003 

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