IVES: Selected Songs. Susan Narucki, sop., Donald Berman, piano. New World 80680. 57 minutes.

If Charles Ives’ piano music can be heard as expressing his philosophical ideas about living in America, and I believe that it that is certainly one way to hear that music, his songs (there are over 200 of them) can be heard as embodying his more day-to-day, closer to the ground observations about America, its place in the world, and American life.

This selection of songs is as good an introduction to the composer’s work in this medium as I have heard. Soprano Susan Narucki and pianist Donald Berman display a profound understanding of and identity with these songs. Ms Narucki’s voice is warm and powerful. She is a fine vocal actress, with a strong sense of rhythm and of poetry, and Mr. Berman is a sensitive and expressive accompanist.

Every listener will have his or her own favorites from the 27 songs given here, which were composed between 1897 and 1921. The program has a good mixture of some of Ives’ most famous songs, like “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven”, “The Greatest Man”, and “The Things Our Fathers Loved”, along with some that are maybe a bit lesser known, like “Songs My Mother Taught Me” (an inspired opener), “Where the Eagle Cannot See”, and “Feldeinsamkeit”.

The informative notes (always a valuable part of a New World release) were written by the performers, and their perspective is helpful for close listening. The sound is close and intimate. This is an important disc both for Ives fans and those looking to explore this chronicler of America.

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