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Ives: Sonatas / Hilary Hahn, Valentina Lisitsa

Release Date: 10/11/2011 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 001608202  
Composer:  Charles Ives
Performer:  Hilary HahnValentina Lisitsa
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

IVES Violin Sonatas Nos. 1–4 Hillary Hahn (vn); Valentina Lisitsa (pn) DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON B0016082-02 (66:24)

In addition to fine program notes by our former colleague Robert Kirzinger, Hillary Hahn writes about her and her duo partner’s experiences learning and playing Ives sonatas. In two pages, Hahn says more about learning and performing Ives, and about performing music in general, than I have seen in any book. I would quote her entire essay, except that you are going to buy this disc and so can Read more read it yourself. “A piece of music eventually has to get onstage, in front of audiences, for its performers to see its true colors.” After taking the Third Sonata around the world: “The more we played it for various audiences, the more the details and refinements Ives wrote into his score became ingrained into our musical consciousness, and the freer we became to explore additional expressive possibilities.”

I think of Hahn as a very “classical” artist, although she plays and has recorded everything from J. S. Bach to Jennifer Higdon. Her tone here is very clean and a touch dry, without a drop of romantic syrup—which would not be out of place in Ives’s sonatas. Her playing suggests the word “honesty,” fully appropriate for Ives, the Yankee traditionalist/iconoclast. Kirzinger this time: “Combining the classical tradition of Brahms and Beethoven with the vibrant, self-reliant spirit of an optimistic, growing, still-young United States …” Hahn and Valentina Lisitsa lean toward the masters but do not shortchange the Americanisms; they just make sure that the popular elements do not take over. At first hearing, these performances sound a bit conservative, but they wear well, no doubt for just that reason.

Returning to a favorite set by Gregory Fulkerson and Robert Shannon, we find more emotion, more heart-on-sleeve playing, and it works very well. But Fulkerson’s intonation is inconsistent and his tone runs to edginess. It is Shannon who provides the depth and clarity on that Bridge set; he emerges as more than a full partner. Lisitsa is by no means a cipher; she and Hahn have obviously come to full agreement—they play as one, each taking the lead as the music requires. Fulkerson’s tempi sound just right (well, I am used to them); Hahn is considerably faster in all but one of the 12 movements (a total timing of 66:24 to Fulkerson’s 79:52), and yet her performances never seem rushed. Deutsche Grammophon provides fine sound from Clubhouse, a recording studio in Rhinebeck, New York. While I won’t discard Fulkerson/Shannon, I have no hesitation recommending Hahn/Lisitsa as a first choice for this wonderful music.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano no 4 "Children's Day at the Camp Meeting" by Charles Ives
Performer:  Hilary Hahn (Violin), Valentina Lisitsa (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914-1916; USA 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 3 by Charles Ives
Performer:  Hilary Hahn (Violin), Valentina Lisitsa (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: ?1913-14; USA 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 2 by Charles Ives
Performer:  Hilary Hahn (Violin), Valentina Lisitsa (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907-1912; USA 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1 by Charles Ives
Performer:  Hilary Hahn (Violin), Valentina Lisitsa (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: ?1902-08; USA 

Featured Sound Samples

Violin Sonata no 2: II. In the Barn
Violin Sonata no 3: I: Verse 1 (Adagio)
Violin Sonata no 4 "Children's Day at the Camp Meeting": III. Allegro

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 A worthy recording December 26, 2011 By William Craig (BROOMFIELD, CO) See All My Reviews "The Ives Violin Sonatas are not exactly overperformed. Their neglect is unfortunate; they are lyrical, melodious works whose thematic material is largely based on turn-of-the century hymn tunes and popular music. Though by no means easy to play, they are more approachable for an audience than much of Ives's output. Having performed the two shorter sonatas (nos. 2 & 4), I can attest that they are worth the effort required to put them together. For all these many years the standard-setting recording of the sonatas has been the mid-fifties taping by Rafael Druian and John Simms. Druian was best known as the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra during George Szell's tenure, and he previously held the same post in Chicago. He was a wonderful violinist whose tone was both sweet and powerful; he was ably abetted by Simms, about whom I know nothing. These were, in fact, ground breaking recordings. In the fifties performers were just starting to catch up to Ives's musical and technical demands; performances of such technical accomplishment and musical communication were very rare. The recordings first appeared on the Mercury label and were reissued in the mid-sixties on the Philips World Series label, in wretched-sounding "electronic stereo", which was in at the time. They have never reappeared in any form. According to my sister-in-law, who got to know Druian during his later years in Philadelphia, he always regretted that this fine recording never made it to CD. I've heard a couple of later recordings. Paul Zukovsky and Gilbert Kalish were technically impeccable but rather uptight and standoffish. The great Ives scholar John Kirkpatrick (with a violinist whose name escapes me) was simply odd; the performances were from memory, and there was little concern about playing exactly what Ives put on the page. This new recording is a worthy successor to Druian/Simms. Hahn and Lisitsa obviously love and understand the music. Hahn tells us in her notes that they performed the sonatas many times before recording them, and the experience shows. They convey both the Romantic sweep and the mordant wit of the music. The technique is even more fluent than Druian/Simms, and tempos are sometimes faster - notably in the finale of the third sonata, where a slower tempo would be more to the point. My chief quibble is that Hahn's tone is rather dry. Druian uses a much wider variety of colors and produces many passages of breathtaking beauty. Hahn rarely achieves this. But these beautifully played, well engineered recordings are thoroughly recommendable." Report Abuse
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