Much of his compositional output was written prior to a heart attack in 1918 and remained unperformed until after his death, but American modernist Charles Ives is now well-established as a significant and pioneering composer. Ives’ father George was a bandmaster during the American Civil War, and taught his musically-inclined son skills that included playing the piano in one key while singing in another.
In part, as a consequence of this, Ives’ works explored polyrhythms, dissonance, atonality, quarter-tones and other techniques that were to become international staples of experimentalism. Another of Ives’ enduring preoccupations was traditional American hymns and songs, references to which can be heard at various junctures in his Four String Quartets, composed between 1910 and 1917.
There have been regular releases of the set since the premiere recording by Rafael Druian (violin) and John Simms (piano) in 1957, but only a handful are currently in print. Welcome then, is this new recording from French violinist Annabelle Berthomé-Reynolds and Belgian pianist Dirk Herten. Berthomé-Reynolds brings a delicate lyricism to these intricate but very accessible works, and the interplay between violin and piano is unified and sympathetic. Ives veers from rousing sprightliness to dreamy pastoral (sometimes within a few bars) and Berthomé-Reynolds and Herten navigate this terrain with an easy but precise sensitivity: the Largo from Sonata No 4 is as light as gently rustling leaves. The recording quality is spacious and warm.