Charles Ives meets Spiderman

A most stimulating release. Ahonen is a fine pianist, captured in fabulous BIS sound

Charles Ives meets Spiderman

Fabulous to hear the First Piano Sonata for Charlies Ives here, a piece that so often sits in the shadow of the so-called "Concord" Sonata.

Charles Ives is the very definition of a maverick. His music was astonishingly individual, reflecting the sounds around him in its use of popular melodies, but juxtaposing plateaux of different key areas to create the most exciting clashes - think of hearing two military bands at he same time, each playing different tunes in different keys. It is a remarkable experience, and completely individual.

It also needs a superb performer. Finnish pianist Joonas Ahonen is one such. He clearly has an affinity for so-called "modern music" - also on BIS is a recording of the Ligeti Piano Concerto (with BIT20 Ensemble under Baldur Brönnimann).

Listening to the first movement of the First Piano Sonata, we hear how Ives hints at a melody throughout, until we finally hear it at the end (the 19th century hymn, Lebanon).

All credit to BIS for providing a listing of thematic origins of the music (from other Ives works), and "borrowings" such as that hymn tune, "Happy Day," "Bringing in the Sheaves" and so on. For more on those popular melodies and what Ives can do with them, try the first part of the second movement (labelled "IIa"):

Ives started on his Sonata in 1901, but it was not completed until the 1920s. The mixing and melding of hymnody with ragtime is remarkable, and over the course of this 41-minute piece, Ahonen finds both repose and elemental power - and everything in between, including a sense of unbuttoned ecstasy in the movement "IIb," subtitled "In the Inn".

But it is in the third movement that Ahonen really shines, finding a level of post-Romantic expressivity not available in the first two movements:

The sheer extravagance of the movement "IVb," which seems to encompass hymns, ragtime and supreme dissonance simultaneously, requires a pianist of remarkable powers:

A remarkable performance of remarkable music. Joonas Ahonen's recording of the Ives "Concord" Sonata is also available on BIS; here he also includes the far shorter Three-Page Sonata (begin 1907, with revisions continuing into the mid-1920s). UK residents will surely recognise "London Chimes" s part of the musical material here; the finale is notable for its inclusion of a twelve-note row. Ahonen's performance of the last section of the piece is marvellous: rhythmic, motoric even, it drags the listener along with its unstoppable momentum:

The piece sandwiched between those masterworks is Bernhard Gander's Peter Parker (2004). Born in 1969, Gander seems to have something of a thing (or is that a Thing?) for superheroes and comic book characters: his khul string quartet and orchestral piece hulk both refer to the Incredible Hulk. One might posit a link with Michael Dougherty and his Metropolis Symphony, perhaps; but Gander's musical voice is much more closely allied to Ives, hence the effectiveness of the coupling. Gander equates various heroic actions of Peter Parker/Spiderman with pianistic gestures (running = repeated note patterns, holding on = inflexible clusters and so on). The spider's web is represented by upwardly moving chromaticism. Above and beyond this, Gander uses filmic techniques in sound (slo-mo zoom effects down to a single note, for example).  A very gestural piece:

Gander: Peter Parker

A most stimulating release. Ahonen is a fine pianist, captured in fabulous BIS sound.