Only in recent years has Charles Ives been acknowledged as a founding father of American classical music, but there can be no mistaking the true grit in his four violin sonatas, all composed before 1920.
Youthful brio, blistering technique and a fierce musical intellect make Hilary Hahn the ideal interpreter of her countryman’s work. She and Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa have been exploring the sonatas together for a few years and the synergy they have achieved is remarkable, considering the two parts are often composed to sound entirely disjointed from one another. It’s clear from the duo’s mercurial rhythmic interplay just how much fun they’re having with this music.
Hahn’s sweet-toned violin is closely-miked for a dry, honest sound that matches the directness of Ives’s borrowings from hymns, ragtime and spirituals. North Carolina-based Lisitsa calls these tuneful quotations “American as apple pie”, and that’s the spirit in which she attacks buoyant, punchy passages. But the players are just as expressive in gentle moments of reflection, easing into Debussyesque lyricism for the Autumn movement of Sonata No 2.
Highlights: the wide-eyed adventure of the Sonata No 4 Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting, its final movement ending abruptly with the charm found in a Haydn musical joke; and the jaunty, boot-scooting barn dance in the Second Sonata. Appropriately, the album was recorded at an upstate New York farmhouse-turned-studio, a building that dates from Ives’s time and is still referred to as “the barn”.