On this Bridge disc, pianist Andrew Rangell puts together an interesting program consisting of music by Boston-based contemporary composer John McDonald sandwiched in between the Suite "Luciferian," Op. 25 (1919), by Carl Nielsen and the massive ragtime and Liszt-inflected First Sonata (1902-1910) of Charles Ives. Ives and Nielsen -- and, for that matter, Jean Sibelius -- are sometimes discussed within a shared context as romantics who yielded to the pull of innovation and arrived at a kind of modernism before the musical world was quite ready for it, albeit working absolutely apart from one another. This appears to be the first time on disc that Nielsen and Ives have been programmed together; indeed, Nielsen's Suite "Luciferian" has heretofore only appeared within the context of Nielsen's other, rather slight, output for piano. The McDonald work, Meditation Before a Sonata: Dew Cloth, Dream Drapery, Op. 406 (2003), was conceived as a preamble to either of Ives' two large piano sonatas.
Rangell's performance of the Nielsen is very fine, and in general so is the Ives -- here heard in the Lou Harrison edition "with some liberties" -- though his interpretations of the odd-numbered movements are stronger than the even-numbered ones; the third movement Largo-Allegro-Largo is a standout. The McDonald Meditation is interesting in that it does reflect Ives' scattered, spacey transcendentalism and its unique harmonic color, although one wonders how effective it is as preface to Ives' large sonatas -- McDonald's piece sort of fritters away at the end, more like the composer is taking his bow and departing from the stage rather than pulling back the curtain for the next act. The Ives piano sonata with which the McDonald Meditation might best be paired, actually, would be the "Three Page"; it's about the same length, and Ives doesn't quite throw down the gauntlet at its start like he does at the openings of the big sonatas. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing program and a worthwhile investigation into the relationship between early, "rogue" modernism and twenty first century music.