Under the Influence, or Providing It
THE LIGHT THAT IS FELT: SONGS OF CHARLES IVES
Susan Narucki, soprano; Donald Berman, pianist. New World Records 80680-2; CD.
MOST artists crave the limelight, but Charles Ives often worked in isolation, his day job in insurance providing the financial means to indulge his passion. He wrote nearly 200 songs and published 114 of them privately in 1922, describing their publication as “a kind of house cleaning.”
The painterly details of Ives’s songs are vividly conveyed by the bright-voiced Susan Narucki and the pianist Donald Berman on a new disc whose 27 diverse selections (most from H. Wiley Hitchcock’s 2004 critical edition) highlight Ives’s multiple influences. Those included European Romanticism and religious and secular American tunes, which he meshed with his own inventive, radical harmonies. Like Bartok, Ives used both simple folk melodies and dissonance, sometimes blending them.
Gentle, melodic songs are interspersed here with more tumultuous works, demonstrating the wide spectrum of Ives’s emotional and musical palette. The spare and evocative “Where the Eagle Cannot See” is followed by the theatrical, astringent intensity of “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven.” The heavy weariness of “Like a Sick Eagle” is aptly conveyed by Ms. Narucki and Mr. Berman, before they plunge into the violent waters of “Swimmers,” whose wildly turbulent piano part underpins a soaring vocal line.
The disc opens with the wistful, tonal “Songs My Mother Taught Me” and concludes with the Romantic “Romanzo (di Central Park).” Also included are the pictorial “Tom Sails Away,” with its lively evocations of town and family life, and “The Housatonic at Stockbridge.”
Romantic, Brahmsian songs like “Du Bist wie Eine Blume” (“You Are Like a Flower”), “Feldeinsamkeit” (“In Summer Fields”) and “Minnelied” (“Love Song”) reflect Ives’s interest in German lieder. His less familiar, moody settings of translations of poems by the medieval Italian poet Folgore da San Gimignano are more harmonically imaginative.