Hilary Hahn, Charles Ives: Four Sonatas

Steve Holtje

By Steve Holtje

on 10.13.11 in Reviews

Charles Ives: Four Sonatas

Hilary Hahn

If anyone can sell these eccentric, 100-percent American sonatas for violin and piano to the public, it’s Hilary Hahn, probably the greatest active violinist and certainly the best of the American contenders for that title. Hahn’s absolute technical assurance never comes at the expense of expressiveness; her vibrato and phrasing ooze Romantic emotiveness even amid the thorniest passages.

If anyone can sell these to the public, it’s Hahn

And there are certainly plenty of thorny bits. This is all mature Ives. The first three Sonatas were finalized in 1914 (Ives turned 40 that year), the Fourth, “Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting,” in 1916; all reworked earlier material. Aside from the more ingratiating Third (which still has its share of harmonic daring), they sound like they could have been written last week; even as Ives quotes folk tunes, he throws in off-kilter harmonies that expertly undercut potential sentimentality.

Hahn’s refulgent tone allows the quotes their full melodic folksiness while still keeping the overall feeling tartly challenging. The pianist, Valentina Lisitsa, has a nicely rich tone and never sounds clangorous even when giving bold expression to the blustery passages. Gregory Fulkerson’s renditions on Bridge have long been the gold standard in this repertoire, but Hahn is his equal.