For this impressive two-CD set, Mead plays a Steinway Model C, a smaller and tighter-sounding instrument than the concert Steinway D. Mead and producer David Lefeber intended to suggest an instrument Ives might have used. The piano’s reduced resonance probably accounts for Mead’s brisk speeds and pinched dynamics. It takes a few moments to adjust to the shift in scale. The Metier conjures a lonely musician improvising in a deserted town hall rather than a tuxedoed pianist onstage
In “Emerson” (misspelled on Metier’s track listing), the 7/8 section (page 8) momentarily hints at Messiaen. It’s easy to miss the viola’s two sotto voce measures. Mead tears through “Hawthorne” deliriously. The tight piano shrouds Ives’ wonderful effects: sustained chords emerging from the din and ppp chorales following ffff salvos. In a hurried “The Alcotts,” the scent of lilacs blows too quickly through the town. Mead works wonders with the gauzy “Thoreau,” the A-C-G ostinato becoming Mahlerian. But the harsh, too-prominent flute doesn’t blend into the fog. If Mead had chosen a Steinway D, he’d move to the head of the class. Ironically, the Model C’s minimal reverberation reveals Mead’s astounding accuracy. I like what Mead has to say, but wish I could hear it better.
The massive Concord is less than half of Mead’s menu. The first sonata, Studies and short pieces speak to Mead’s dedication. Ives’ intensely personal piano works could reflect political views (Study No. 9, “The Anti-Abolitionist Riots in the 1830s and 1840s”) or favorite pastimes (Study No. 23, “Baseball Take-Off”). The Three-Page Sonata is a potent statement comparable to Bartók, Schoenberg, or Scriabin’s inquiries into short forms. The acoustics confirm three different recording venues.