Rudi Stephan

Rudi Stephan
Chamber Works and Songs
Hanno Müller-Brachmann bar, Tehila Nini Goldstein s,
Hinrich Alpers p
Sony 88985363442

Despite much of the compositional output of American modernist Charles Ives (1874-1954) remaining unperformed until after his death, he is now well-established as a significant and pioneering composer whose works “continue to find new friends and vigorous champions worldwide.” So observes Geoffrey Block in his excellent liner notes. His Concord Sonata, for piano with optional viola and flute (in first and last movements) is a complex programmatic work centred on the lives of four significant figures in the transcendentalism movement of mid-19th-century Concord, Massachusetts: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Alcott family (including Louisa May), and Henry Thoreau.

Like many of Ives’ other works, it incorporates borrowings from hymns and popular song, in this case set within a sophisticated conceptual framework that adds Beethoven to the mix. Monumental and intricate, it’s given an assured and sensitive reading by Finnish pianist Joonas Ahonen.

Also included is Violin Sonata No 4 (Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting), a short, undemanding piece, written with the playing abilities of Ives’ 12-year-old nephew in mind, for which Ahonen is joined by violinist Pekka Kuusisto. These two exciting works are recorded with warmth and intimacy, a worthy addition to the catalogue of Sweden’s stellar Bis label, on which Ahonen’s performance of Ligeti’s Piano Concerto has previously been released.