Thanks primarily to a handful of pieces that celebrated pastoral America, Charles Ives is seen by many as some sort of cranky, avant-garde romantic. A recent piece by The New Yorker's Alex Ross made it a point to refer to both Ives' "raw, rude soul" and his disdain for "highbrow pretensions," the sort of curmudgeonly aspects of his personality that cloud the forward-looking truth of his work. Ives was a daring, meticulous composer especially given his surroundings in early 20th-century America and this piano disc serves as a fine example of that. Pianist Steven Mayer's performances here focus on the more traditional (and surprisingly dissonant), but the thoughtful inclusion of both "Varied Air and Variations" and a jaw-droppingly out-there piece ("The Celestial Railroad") give a more complete measure of Ives' compositional tendencies. Bracingly different and still shockingly intense, the contrast of these two pieces with the more stately "Concord" is stunning.
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