Critical Acclaim for Jeremy Denk and Stefan Jackiw's Ives Sonatas

Jeremy Denk, Stefan Jackiw

In the hands of Jackiw and Denk, the bold sections of the four pieces bristled with a down-home, bucolic verve. The second movement of the Violin Sonata No. 2 is aptly titled “In the Barn,” and Jackiw dug into the music with zeal. One passage even humorously ground out of tune. Likewise, the central movement of the Third Violin Sonata blazed with rhythm as Denk’s playing kept the ragtime style bouncing in a spinning groove that seemed to look ahead to the music of James P. Johnson.  

The most “Ivesian” work of these pieces is the first Violin Sonata, where quotations of Civil War-era tunes clash against burly chords and wayward musical lines. The second movement recalls the memories of Civil War veterans through two songs, “Old Oaken Bucket” and the march “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!” There, Jackiw rendered the music with dusky tone, and the lines shimmered with a haunting glow. Denk, playing with deep, pearly tone, wrapped him in sensitive accompaniment.

Boston Classical Review
January 27, 2018
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The Third Sonata isn’t nearly as simple as its position on the program would suggest, though it was one in which Ives deliberately adopted a harmonic language designed to appeal to broader audiences (a decision for which he later nearly disowned the work). In 1917 Ives rented out Carnegie Recital Hall (now called Weill Hall) and put this sonata on the program, so he didn’t really think that badly of it at the time, and Burkholder for one praises it for its direct alliance of form and emotional content. The first movement, unique in Ives’s output, is a developing verse-and-chorus structure whose concluding mashup of two hymns gains impact with each iteration. Jackiw and Denk were exquisitely soulful and communicative. By contrast, the fast second movement saw sparky displays of virtuosity by Denk and some of Jackiw’s earthiest playing, introducing raucous slides, and gaining for them a rare mid-work round of applause. The finale, in the “cumulative” form, brought out some grand gestures, with a fine sense of hush leading to the beautiful build-up on the melody’s reveal.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer
January 28, 2018
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Friday’s tour of the sonatas brought one marvel after another. The slow movements cast a dreamy Proustian spell, the revival meeting spoke with religious fervor, the barn dance roared. Denk is a veteran Ivesian, and what came through most vividly was his gift for bringing out the different voices from within the dense conversations Ives always seems to be having with himself at the keyboard. Jackiw came more recently to Ives’s music, but you would never know it from his playing, marked in equal parts by confident self-possession and a rare sense of musical empathy. This pair should record this repertoire. 

Boston Globe
January 29, 2018
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In the spirit of Ives’ compositions, this was not your usual violin recital! The duo played the sonatas in reverse chronological order. Denk would helpfully introduce the piece and then Hudson Shad would sing. In an interview with The Boston Globe, Jackiw explained that, for him “the biggest challenge in unlocking these pieces was finding the right sound world. As violinists, we spend so much of our time refining our sound, but [this music asks us to] capture the fiddle music, the ‘unschooled earnestness’ of hymn tunes. It was really a different way of playing for me…. What unlocked all of this for me was reading something Ives remembered his father saying when they encountered a stonemason singing off-key. His father said, ‘Look into his face and hear the music of the ages. Don’t pay too much attention to the sounds, for if you do, you may miss the music. You won’t get a wild heroic ride to heaven on pretty little sounds.'”

Arts Fuse
January 29, 2018
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