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Mead's approach to the Concord is rather literal. Sometimes the discourse needs more space and there are a few missed opportunities, some quite serious. Compared with the other recordings I have cited, the spectral soft hymn in the second movement is simply too loud for its mystical effect and the ragtime passages barely swing. The saturated New England impressionism of the last movement is rather dry for the banks of Walden Pond, although the flute towards the end is magical. But here it would be more idiomatic to spread the large chords than to divide them in half. The viola, which Ives unrealistically brings in for just a few bars at the end of the first movement, seems to lose its last held note. But Mead's technique is consistently impressive.

This is amply demonstrated in a fine performance of the Three-Page Sonata. Ives pinned a note onto a printed copy of Henry Cowells' 1949 edition: 'made mostly as a joke to knock the mollycoddles out of their boxes and to kick out the softy ears'. But all the same it's a serious piece opening with the B-A-C-H notes as an important motif. By the time Ives got to the end of this concentrated dissonant single movement the most shocking thing left for him to do was to end with a C major chord [listen -- CD1 track 5, 5:04-6:09].

The Varied Air and Variations is another challenge: it's subtitled 'Study No 2 for Ears or Aural and Mental Exercise!!!' There's a story behind the piece, which starts with sinister quiet music to indicate protests from the audience, and then there's a short Allegro representing 'the old stone wall around the orchard -- none of those stones are the same size'. Indeed they aren't since the unison melody has eleven different notes in it [listen -- CD1 track 6, 0:00-0:43]. On other occasions Ives would employ all twelve -- some years before Schoenberg too.

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Copyright © 22 January 2003 Peter Dickinson, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, UK


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