Charles Ives / Maurice Wright / Marc-André Hamelin
Charles Ives Sonata No. 2 “Concord, Mass. 1840-1860”; Maurice Wright Sonata
New World Records 378-2
The “Concord” Sonata is the Mount McKinley of piano literature—towering over the surrounding terrain, the entire continent seems to arrive at one point, which in this case is a small Massachusetts town. Here stands Ives, discoursing on Emerson, Hawthorne, the Alcotts, Thoreau, transcendentalism, spirituality, and a New England manliness not unlike Beethoven’s (Ives’s very readable Essays before a Sonata fleshes out his strong likes and dislikes). The piece is unutterably difficult, but Hamelin wins us over with technique beyond compare. And poetry.
Maurice Wright’s first piano sonata is a find, and is an apt complement to the Ives. (Full disclosure: Wright is Professor of Composition at Temple University, and in his fine career has taught many talented pupils, and me.) All of Wright’s music shines with delight, intelligence, and vitality. This work is enjoyable, moreover, because of something more: it’s a great piano piece. Fully confident in every aspect, Wright’s Sonata should be a welcome addition to any pianist’s repertoire.
Hamelin surveys these works with lyricism, a sparkling delicacy, and, when called for, manic fury. He is thrilling. What a player, what a CD.