Hammers & Strings

Recordings of the four violin sonatas of Charles Ives with the pianist Adrienne Kim. Recorded for Capstone Records.


Scott Mortensen, October 2006 

These are excellent recordings of Ives' four violin sonatas. Both Tipton and Kim seem very attuned to the folksy, idiomatic elements in this music, and they don't hesitate to give full rein to its rowdier aspects. (Recordings of Ives' violin sonatas often seem to fall short in this area by sticking too closely to traditional European chamber music models.) For an example of Tipton and Kim's assurance, listen to the "In the Barn" movement in the Second Sonata. Kim pounds away (check out those deliciously deep notes at the end of the movement), and Tipton's fiddle work is bracing and fun--just like it should be. Like the title says, this is a barn dance, not a salon soiree. I should note that in some places, Tipton's tone is not especially fulsome. In fact, Kim's bold sound occasionally seems to drown out Tipton's. (This may be a function of the recording process.) But this is a minor quibble. Also, these musician do more than realize the folksy qualities in this music. They do a fine job of conveying the gentle, reflective, and reverential aspects of this music. While this recording may not surpass my reference, Fulkerson and Shannon's, it is a clear winner. This recording also offers a clear alternative for those seeking a version of these works that costs less than Bridge's full-price two-disc set.

All Music Guide, August 2006 
David N. Lewis

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"Charles Ives’ four violin sonatas, as a unit, are among the most compelling, enduring and meaningful statements made in a chamber format by an American composer, and are recorded with some frequency, though no collection that has appeared heretofore can claim the brass ring for being the top choice among all. Capstone’s Hammers & Strings: The Violin and Piano Sonatas of Charles Ives might just be a contender. Lisa Tipton co-founded the Meridian String Quartet and currently leads the NY Youth Symphony Chamber Music Program; she and Adrienne Kim, who is on the faculty at Syracuse University, have performed some of these works at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall. Therefore, Hammers & Strings: The Violin and Piano Sonatas of Charles Ives isn’t the result of a desire of an individual player to record these distinctive works, nor to stump for some fresh editorial spin on familiar Ives pieces; it is tempered by the discipline of the concert hall and experiences gained from live performances.

In the LP era, there was a tendency to emphasize the hardness in Ives’ music at the expense of his sentimentality, such as in John Celentano and Frank Glazer’s 1976 recording of the First Sonata for Vox, where Ives’ transcendent spaciness is sucked into a black hole of discord. By comparison, Tipton and Kim attempt to balance Ives’ vision in a naturally developed, one wants to say “holistic” way, particularly as it applied to his first, most enigmatic sonata – this is probably the best recording ever made of it. However, there is no “favorite sonata” here, all four are given equal attention and care, and Tipton and Kim concentrate on the four in the context of their individual requirements, which vary widely even from movement to movement. “In the Barn” from the Second Sonata, “Autumn” is particularly strong, as Tipton and Kim parse out the twists and turns of this movement with a great deal of flexibility, rather than try to roll through it at a semi-strict dance tempo, getting in as many notes as Ives’ dense textures will allow. Adrienne Kim negotiates the long solo part in the second movement of the Third Sonata with a sense of swing, as Ives seems to indicate in the layout of the music, which is especially tough for the pianist as this passage was originally scored out for a two-manual organ with pedal. The sound quality is better than anything this reviewer has heard on the Capstone label; full, bright and yet warm.

Hammers & Strings: The Violin and Piano Sonatas of Charles Ives is a two-disc set, with two sonatas per disc. The program as a whole runs just fourteen seconds short of 80 minutes, which may lead “music-by-the-yard” freaks to complain that it all could have fit on one disc. Indeed, a program so close to the limit crammed onto one disc would result in a product yielding in unpredictable results, some unplayable discs, returns, customer complaints – it makes sense to put the program onto two short discs. In this case, one is glad that Tipton and Kim preserved the integrity of the cycle and did not dip in to the Pre-First Violin Sonata, Largo, Decoration Day and other assorted Ivesiana for the combination of violin and piano that would distract from the main program. Besides, what would then be left for the next one?      

Lisa Tipton, violin
Adrienne Kim, piano

Track Listing & Audio Samples
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  CD 1
  Fourth Sonata "Children's Day at the Camp Meeting"
1. Allegro 
2. Largo
3. Allegro
  Third Sonata
4. Adagio: Andante; Allegretto; Adagio
5. Allegro
6. Adagio cantabile
  CD 2
  Second Sonata "Autumn"
1. Autumn
2. In the Barn 
3. The Revival
  First Sonata
4. Andante; Allegro vivace
5. Largo cantabile
6. Album Leaf