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 ★★★★


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