BBC Music Magazine
JS Bach: Aria Variata in A minor; Bartók: Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs;
Ives: Piano Sonata No. 1; Messiaen: Cantéyodjayâ Tamara Stefanovich (piano) Pentatone PTC 5186 741 (hybrid CD/ SACD) 79:39 mins
Charles Ives’s First Sonata isn’t as well known as the Second, Concord, but it’s a comparably ambitious structure, in five movements totalling about 40 minutes. Full of gritty, technically challenging counterpoint, it’s shot-through with ragtime rhythms and allusions to hymn tunes. Tamara Stefanovich plays it with complete command and poetic sensibility, flexible in tempo and limpidly expressive in its quiet episodes, aided by a recording (with a surround-sound option) which ideally combines clarity with atmosphere. She follows it with a sensitive account of Bartók’s Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, which loses continuity by not observing the composer’s ‘attacca’ markings between movements, a joyous ride through Messiaen’s Cantéyodjayâ, and a lucid reading of Bach’s early Variations enlivened by crisp ornamentation (though this could to advantage have been varied on the repeats).
The album’s title refers not to the influence of one composer on another, but to Ives’s indebtedness to American vernacular sources, Bartók’s to ★ungarian folk idioms, Messiaen’s to the rhythms of Indian classical music and Bach’s to Italian decorative techniques. These disparate lines of influence don’t make the programme a particularly satisfying straight-through listen, and if it’s the Sonata you’re primarily interested in you might well prefer, for example, Philip Mead’s two-disc Ives set on Métier. But Stefanovich also says that the disc combines music from four nations that have had the greatest influence on her personality; and it’s certainly treasurable as an anthology of loving performances of works that palpably mean a lot to her. Anthony Burton PERFORMANCE ★★★★