Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 30, 2019

REVIEW: Tanglewood, Stefan Jackiw, Jeremy Denk, Hudson Shad

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 25, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

Stefan Jackiw
The four sonatas for violin and piano by Charles Ives constitute a unique sound world. All written between 1914 and 1917, they quote from hymn tunes which this insurance-executive-by-day and church organist on weekends wrote or arranged for church services, as well as from various patriotic songs and marches.

In an imaginative program on Thursday, violinist Stefan Jackiw and pianist Jeremy Denk played them in reverse order by number, which the loquacious Denk explained in droll spoken introductions to each piece reflects their order of difficulty. He also indicated which hymns members of Hudson Shad (tenor Mark Bleeke; baritone Eric Edlund; bass-baritone Peter Becker; bass Wilbur Pauley) would sing before the quartet in which they’re quoted.

The fourth sonata, which opened the program, is subtitled “Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting,” as it depicts a child’s view of an outdoor religious ceremony. While all four sonatas are in three movements, their tempo notations vary considerably. A raucous piano interlude in the central slow movement is humorously marked “Allegro con slugarocko,” but the ragtime-influenced finale ends with a quiet fragment of “Shall We Gather at the River?” The slow outer movements of the third sonata surround a jazzy, foot stomping “Allegro” with mystical reflections on “Beulah Land” and “I Need Thee Every Hour.”

The second sonata, which followed intermission, is the most exuberant and lively of the four. Its dancelike middle movement, titled “In the Barn,” quotes “Turkey in the Straw” and the “Sailor’s Hornpipe.” Denk called the first sonata, which concluded the program, his and Jackiw’s favorite, for its visionary tone and elaborate writing for both instruments. Jan Swafford calls it “the grandest and most expansive” Ives sonata in his eloquent program notes.

Though offset by many passages of serene beauty, lengthier sections of this groundbreaking repertoire require great virtuosity of its performers, and this duo met these demands head on. Their kinetic energy, with Jackiw in almost constant motion on his feet, and frequent eye contact with each other reinforced their deep engagement with the music to the enthralled audience. Hudson Shad’s stirring accounts of the hymn tunes provided startling and welcome contrast.