Ives: Piano Sonata No. 2

Ives: Piano Sonata No. 2 "Concord", The Celestial Railroad


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Charles Ives' "Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord Mass.: 1840-60," popularly known as the "Concord Sonata," has been recorded a good many times in the last 55 years, with no two interpretations turning out quite the same. This one, by pianist Steven Mayer, radically departs from most in that between the movements actor Kerry Shale reads relevant passages from Ives' writings on the subject, in addition to a couple of bits drawn from Emerson and Thoreau, transcendentalist authors whose works inspired Ives to compose this sonata. The effect is not distracting and the passages are brief; to those still struggling to come to terms with Ives' difficult work, the spoken interpolations may well prove enlightening. Those who know the "Concord" well already may be inclined to program the spoken parts out. This is an especially fine interpretation of the "Concord," particularly the "Hawthorne" and "Thoreau" movements. Mayer's approach to "Emerson" is a bit tentative at the start, and his "Alcotts" is fine except that he inserts a very long pause in between the climax and final release, a device Ives indicates as an option, but does not take for himself on his own recording. It seems that many younger pianists these days like to take a long break at this point. Of especial interest is the filler employed here. As the late "Transcriptions from Emerson" directly relate to the material within the "Concord," a sort of natural combination between these four pieces and the larger work practically suggests itself. But it would take a short "Concord" indeed to permit the presence of all four "Emerson" Transcriptions onto the same disc; here Mayer includes the "First Transcription" only. Mayer also includes Ives' seldom heard "Varied Air & Variations" in the best recording it's ever had; here it is cleanly played and true to Ives' dynamic markings and tempo. In "The Celestial Railroad," another relatively rare item for Ives, Mayer decides not to succumb to the temptation of the composer's suggestion that a snare drummer might play along with one section of the piece, to good effect. Ives aficionados would certainly have welcomed a few words about the editions in use here -- certainly the 1970s Kirkpatrick edition of "Varied Air & Variations" is not particularly easy to read, and one wonders if Mayer may have created his own edition to work from. In any event, this Naxos disc is probably your best bet for a relatively inexpensive, and accessible, way to enjoy Ives' greatest piano masterwork.

Product Details

Release Date: 08/17/2004
Label: Naxos American
UPC: 0636943922125
catalogNumber: 8559221
Rank: 111043


  1. Readings from Circles (R.W. Emerson) and Ives on 'Emerson'
  2. Sonata No. 2: Concord, Mass., 1840-60, for piano (& optional viola, flute), S. 88 (K. 3A2)
  3. Work(s): Reading from Ives on 'Hawthorne'
  4. Work(s): Reading from Ives on 'The Alcotts'
  5. Work(s): Readings from Walden and journal excerpts by H.D.
  6. Varied Air and Variations, for piano, S. 124 (K. 3B20)
  7. The Celestial Railroad, "take off" for piano, S. 116 (K. 3B19)
  8. Four Transcriptions from "Emerson", for piano, S. 123 (K. 3B21): No. 1

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