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James Sinclair / Northern Sinfonia
(Naxos 8.559087, coupled with Symphony No. 3, "Washington's Birthday" from The Holidays Symphony, "The Unanswered Question," "Country Band" March, and Overture and March "1776"))

The out of tune upright piano is great. Along with MTT's version below, this is my top recommendation for this work.


Michael Tilson Thomas / Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Sony Classical MK 42381, coupled with "The Unanswered Question" and the Holidays Symphony)

Michael Tilson Thomas receives a top-notch recommendation again. He generates a very "etched" orchestral texture; each of the musical strands is clearly audible. This contributes to the moody tension that is never fully resolved by the dissonant crescendo near the end of the work. This is also one of the snappier readings. MTT comes in faster than anyone except Bernstein on DG, and MTT's reading feels faster than that one. I think that the quicker tempo contributes to the mysterious "unfolding" quality that only Sinclair among the other conductors seems to find.

Wolf-Dieter Hauschild / Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra (Berlin Classics 9008, coupled with the Holidays Symphony)

Like his version of the Holidays Symphony, Wolf-Dieter Hauschild's recording of "Central Park in the Dark" is characterized by extreme attention to detail. You'll hear things in this recording that you've never heard anywhere else. Even so, Hauschild doesn't lose track of the overall arc of this work, which is very difficult to create and maintain. This is an excellent performance, coupled with an equally fine recording of the Holidays Symphony.  All Ives enthusiasts should give the disc a listen.

Leonard Bernstein / New York Philharmonic Orchestra (DG 2GH 429220, coupled with "The Unanswered Question," Symphony No. 2 and various orchestral works by Ives)

A very good reading--even if it lacks the impact of Michael Tilson Thomas' version.


Michael Gielen / SWR Symphony Baden-Baden and Freiburg (Hänssler Classic CD 93.097, coupled with "The Unanswered Question" and a Mahler's Symphony No. 1)

This is a solid reading of "Central Park in the Dark." Gielen's interpretation begins mysteriously, and it builds to cacophonous climax. However, I still prefer Sinclair's, MTT's, Bernstein's (DG), or Hauschild's recordings of this difficult-to-pull-off work. If this work is solid, Gielen's recording of "The Unanswered Question" is slightly better. (Incidentally, I have not heard Gielen's recording of Mahler's First Symphony, which is the primary recording on this disc.)

Seiji Ozawa and Maurice Peress / The New York Philharmonic (Sony Classical SMK 60203, coupled with "The Unanswered Question," the Holidays Symphony and Carter's Concerto for Orchestra)

Despite the fact that this recording appears on a Sony "Bernstein Century" disc, it is conducted by Seiji Ozawa and Maurice Peress, who, according to the liner notes, conduct the work "under the supervision of Leonard Bernstein" (whatever that means). This is another solid if not revelatory reading. I marginally prefer this Sony recording to Ozawa's reading with the BSO.

Seiji Ozawa / Boston Symphony Orchestra (DG 423 243-2, coupled with Symphony No. 4 conducted by Ozawa and Orchestral Set No. 1, Three Places in New England conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. Also available on DG Classikon 4394802, coupled with Three Places in New England conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas and Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord by Roberto Szidon, available in the U.K.)

Again, this is an acceptable performance, even if it isn't particularly inspiring. Ozawa fails to sustain much tension in this reading. In the dissonant climax, the BSO sounds tame compared to the CSO and NYPO. I prefer a more mysterious and more rambunctious reading.

Michel Swierczewski / The Gulbenkian Foundation Orchestra (Nimbus NI 5316, coupled with "The Unanswered Question," Three Places in New England, and Robert Browning Overture, out of print)

This is a good but not especially revelatory reading of "Central Park in the Dark." Several other versions are superior and easier to acquire.  (This disc is out of print and quite rare.)


Harold Farberman / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Vanguard Cardinal Series VCS-10013, coupled with the Set for Theatre Orchestra, "The Circus Band March" [arranged by H. Farberman], and The Robert Browning Overture," out of print)

Like much of Farberman's Ives, this is very good, even if it's not especially profound.


Leonard Slatkin / The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (RCA Victor Red Seal 09026-6122-2, coupled with "The Unanswered Question," Symphony No. 3, and other orchestral works)

Slatkin paces his version of the work much more slowly than the others. It clocks in at 9.18, more than one-and-half minutes longer than Tilson Thomas'. Unfortunately, Slatkin's super-slow reading comes off as ponderous rather than profound. The orchestral texture is also thick and undefined. This entire disc has been highly praised elsewhere, but I find it deadly dull. If you don't already own this disc, skip it.

Other Recordings

Other recordings of "Central Park in the Dark" include:

  • Wolf-Dieter Hauschild / Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra (Berlin Classics 9008, coupled with the Holidays Symphony)
  • Will Lorin (under the name "Vladimir Cherniavsky") / The Polymusic Chamber Orchestra (Polymusic PRLP-1001, coupled with other works by Ives, out of print LP)
  • William Strickland / Members of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra (Composers Recordings Inc. CRI-163, coupled with other works by Ives, out of print LP)

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Original text copyright © Scott Mortensen 2002-2006