Both works on this new release are first recordings, but for different reasons. Gordon Binkerd isn’t a composer who’s often performed, which is why his Essays get a recording premier here. Charles Ives’ “Concord” Sonata has enjoyed several recordings, but this oft-revised work exists in many different versions — this is the premier recording of one of them.
Gordon Binkerd was a Midwesterner who was active in the mid-Twentieth century. His music has a deliberately homespun roughness to it, which Binkerd used to express the inherent Americaness of his work. Whether the stance was authentic or not, Binkerd never received the attention of Copland and Barber, and his work has been sadly neglected.
I say sadly, because the three Essays for the Piano played here are well-crafted works that deserve a hearing. These works sound “American” without any affectation, and have real expressive power. The Essays are in a somewhat dissonant style, but still full of interesting and engaging melodies and harmonies.
Ives continually revised his Second Piano Sonata even after he had it published. So there are a lot of different — and sometimes conflicting — versions of the work in existence. Pianist John Kirkpatrick (who would in time become the curator of the Charles Ives Archive at Yale) pulled together all of these variant versions and created a definitive, final edition of the work. That’s the version Perry plays in this release.
As played by Perry, the sonata is very expressive, with some of the quieter sections sounding almost sweetly sentimental. Even during the roaring climaxes, Perry plays with taste and musicality. The music gets loud, but it’s always under control — not a mean feat with the maelstrom of notes and tune snippets Ives throws at the player. Perry delivers a very distinctive — and faithful, I think — interpretation of this complex work. And one that provides additional insights when compared to other performances.
Martin Perry Performs Binkerd & Ives
Gordon Binkerd: Essays for the Piano; Charles Ives: “Concord” Sonata
Martin Perry, piano