I must confess I hadn’t come across the playing of Joonas Ahonen before, although I see he has recorded Ligeti for BIS before now, stirring up ecstatic reviews for himself. If his playing here is anything to go by, I’m not surprised: Ives’s Concord Sonata (1916–19) often requires its performer to despatch inhuman quantities of notes at superhuman speed, but Ahonen scoops them up like a kid building sandcastles, with no loss of clarity or of dynamic or rhythmic control.
Even more importantly, the Concord Sonata can sometimes seem a ragbag of different impulses, for long stretches enthusiastically modernist (Ives was way ahead of his time) and then veering briefly into the sweetest of tonal recollections. But Ahonen projects it as a coherent whole – a wildly impetuous one, perhaps, but one which nonetheless hangs together here as a powerful and moving statement, and over a 47-minute duration at that.
Another confession: I was unaware that Ives had left tiny obbligato roles for a viola at the end of the first movement and flute towards the end of the fourth – cameos of only a few bars apiece, but I’ve not heard a recording which includes them before. The honours here are done by Pekka Kuusisto and Sharon Bezaly.
It’s Kuusisto who opens the programme with Ahonen in the much briefer (eleven-minute) Second Violin Sonata (1911–16), which offers an endearing kaleidoscope of styles: folk songs, hymns, quasi-Schoenbergian atonality. Kuusisto’s relaxed approach to bowing serves the music well, underlining the sense that it is somehow only half-remembered. His veiled tone in the dying hymn tune that ends the second movement is especially touching.
Good notes from the Ives scholar Geoffrey Block.
Violin Sonata No. 4, Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting; Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, Mass., 1840–60*
Pekka Kuusisto (violin, *viola), *Sharon Bezaly (flute), Joonas Ahonen (piano)