Joanna MacGregor’s recording [of the Ives Sonata no.1] is now a landmark….the sonata contains some of the most remarkable examples of Ives’s notated improvisations influenced by ragtime performers, especially in the second and fourth movements. In the latter MacGregor outshines American competitors in masculinity, which would have appealed to Ives, by playing with a driving rhythm, loud throughout. At 0’59” when Ives specifies ‘as fast as possible’ she throws caution to the wind….the slow movement, mostly concerned with that fine hymn What a Friend we have in Jesus, is beautifully appreciated by MacGregor, who also makes excellent sense of the finale. Overall this is a performance which represents Ives in his many inter-related facets so faithfully that it ought to have an impact in the USA.
The Barber Sonata has regularly attracted performers who enjoy its challenges. Everything from MacGregor is well controlled, and her slightly free approach to the first movement brings out the Chopin connection. The scherzo is neat and the eloquent slow movement has exactly the right cumulative intensity. Almost the only American qualities surface in the syncopated fugue-subject of the finale. Both here and in the four Excursions which complete this well-recorded CD, MacGregor’s enthusiasm for popular idioms comes through and pays off.
Ives’ Piano Sonata No. 1 contains many of his distinctive hallmarks, such as the integration of well-known hymns and popular songs, and his quirky and vibrant idiom. MacGregor’s first movement is marvellously played…the inner movements are especially compelling, with Ives’s explosive outbursts well captured by the engineers. This is a performance of genuine stature.
In Barber’s attractive Excursions of 1944, MacGregor gives an extremely satisfying account. Most importantly, MacGregor invests this music with genuine warmth, especially in the delightful Allegretto third movement, and her finale is as fine as any performance I have heard.