There is really no way that I can write an unbiased review of Martin Perry's brand new recording on Bridge of the Charles Ives "Concord" Sonata and three of Gordon Binkerd's Essays for the Piano (the first recordings of these pieces), so I will let my biases fly and ramble.
The Ives "Concord" Sonata is a work of time and place for me. I spent a good part of my last year in high school listening to John Kirkpatrick's recording, and reading Essays Before A Sonata. It was at Martin Perry's apartment in New York in the early 1980s (he now lives in Maine) that I first met a live person who actually played the "Concord" Sonata (it was Stephen Drury). It was also in Marty's apartment that I first read Proust and made the immediate connection with the Saint-Saens D minor Violin Sonata, a piece that I played with Marty back in my days as a flutist who really wished she were a violinist (and I'm living proof that wishes like that can come true).
I was thrilled to hear that Marty made a recording of the piece on the excellent Bridge label, and I just finished listening to it.
The Ives is music of place for me (since I grew up outside of Boston, and had significant events happen at Walden Pond), and it turns out that the Binkerd is also music of place. Gordon Binkerd (1916-2003) spent his career teaching composition at the University of Illinois (50 miles up the road from me), and these three piano pieces sparkle with the prairie landscape that I have grown to love. Marty has never been to this part of the country, but he does a really good job of picking up Binkerd's clues and making it aurally recognizable. The connection to the Ives "Concord" Sonata is unmistakable.
Drew Massey's notes mention that Binkerd's Essays were published in 1976. That happened to be the year I spent obsessed with Ives. Who knew that I would meet Martin Perry at Juilliard the following year, and who knew that I would move to Binkerd's Illinois in 1985? Binkerd retired from teaching in 1971, but he stuck around here for the rest of his life. I could have seen him in the grocery store, in the library, or even at a concert.
All these highly personal coincidences are wrapped up in this remarkable recording.
I said earlier that I cannot be unbiased, so it is with a great deal of bias that I tell you that this is extremely thoughtful and extremely beautiful playing. Marty is a person of serious musical intelligence, and he uses it to bring out all the cyclic material in the "Concord" Sonata in a way that provides a strong structure for the piece. All the musical thoughts have their places. He allows for great amounts of exuberance in the exuberant parts, and extraordinarily touching introspection in the introspective parts. Listening is a rather cathartic experience, and an experience that helps put some of the craziness of the world into perspective for me, if only by presenting a world of pure feeling, pure sound, and a bunch of nostalgia in such a clean and fresh package.