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Christopher Larkin (conductor) / The London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble (Hyperion Helios CDH55018) This recording includes:
  • "From the Steeples and the Mountains"
  • Processional: "Let There Be Light"
  • Other works for brass ensemble by American composers

Both of these early works are fiercely dissonant with little conventional thematic development. Despite this fact, both seem to work marvelously as miniature tone poems. This is powerful, uncompromising music. The music by other composers is also very good, but Ives' works are the most impressive. Most likely, this is not a disc that you will regularly listen to from start to finish. It's just a bit too much of the same tones--for me at least! But I certainly have enjoyed it in smaller doses. And the Ives works are fabulous.

Leipzig Quartet / "Complete Music for String Quartet" [MD&G (Dabringhaus & Grimm) Gold label (MDG 3071143)] This recording includes:

This generously filled all-Ives disc is an impressive recording. It includes solid readings of the two string quartets. (The First SQ is especially good.) And the other works that accompany the string quartets are all outstanding. If you'd like to hear Ives' chamber works for string quartet, this is a good place to start.

Joel Sachs; Cheryl Seltzer (directors) / The Continuum Ensemble / "A Continuum Portrait 3: Charles Ives" (Naxos 8.559194)

This recording includes:

"The Gong on the Hook and Ladder" is one of Ives' sound paintings, very much along the lines of "Central Park in the Dark" or "Over the Pavements." In this case, the clanging gong is sounded by the piano, while the rest of ensemble scrambles along in support. "Hallowe'en" is suitably mystical. It's yet another of Ives' evocations of a childhood holiday scene. The ensemble also performs "In Re Con Moto et al" with precision and authority.

Paul Zukofsky (violin), Gilbert Kalish (piano), Charles Russo (clarinet), Alvin Brehm (bass), The New York String Quartet / "Charles Ives Chamber Music: Four First Recordings" (Columbia Masterworks M 30230, out of print) This recording includes:

  • Piano Trio
  • Set for String Quartet, Bass, and Piano, comprising of:
    (i.) Hymn: Largo Cantabile
    (ii.) Scherzo
    (iii.) "The Innate": Adagio Cantabile
  • "In Re Con Moto et al"
  • Largo (for violin, piano, and clarinet)
  • Largo Risoluto, No. 1
  • Hallowe'en
  • Largo Risoluto, No. 2
  • Largo (for violin and piano)

This LP features impressive performances, which range from the lyrical introspection of the "Largos" to the free-for-all dissonances of "Largo Risolutos." The performers capture both the home-like, familiar qualities and the strange, ear-bending tones that often run side-by-side in this music. This out-of-print LP is definitely worth tracking down.

Lukas Foss (conductor) / Members of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra / "Americana: 20th Century Works for Orchestra" (Vox Allegretto, coupled with works by other American composers, out of print)

This recording includes a solid reading of Ives' "From the Steeples and the Mountains." I understand that Foss frequently performed this work; it was one of his orchestral "calling cards." I like the performance very much, although I admit to finding the London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble's version to be more compelling. Their focused intensity and more extreme dissonance make for a more dramatic recording. (I can't comment on any of the other works on this Vox set, as I have not heard them.)

Israela Margalit (piano), Glenn Dicterow (violin), & Alan Stepansky (cello) (EMI CDC 5 55406 2, out of print) This recording includes:

This is a good performance of the Largo for Clarinet, Violin and Piano. In fact, it's my favorite piece on this disc. But--if you can find it--I prefer the recording that features Zukofsky, Kalish, and Charles Russo on the Columbia LP (M 30230). The other recordings on this CD never quite catch fire.

Frank Glazer, Millard Taylor, Alan Harris, John Celentano, Francis Tursi, Stanley Hasty, & Artur Balsam / "Charles Ives: The Complete Chamber Music, Volume 1" (Vox Box SVBX 564, 3 LPs, out of print) This recordings includes:

  • Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-4
  • Piano Trio
  • Largo Risoluto, No. 1
  • Largo Risoluto, No. 2
  • Hallowe'en
  • In Re Con Moto et al
  • Largo (for Violin and Piano)
  • Largo (for Violin Piano and Clarinet)
  • Adagio Cantabile: "The Innate"
  • Three Quarter Tone Pieces for Two Pianos

Along with the Violin Sonatas and Piano Trio, this Vox Box includes an LP's-worth of miscellaneous "other" chamber works by CEI. The performances are good, but none are definitive. You would do better to track down the Columbia LP featuring Paul Zukofsky and Gilbert Kalish ("Charles Ives Chamber Music: Four First Recordings" on Columbia Masterworks) described above, rather than this set. All of the other works in this Vox Box are also included on that Columbia LP--except for the "Three Quarter Tone Pieces for Two Pianos" (and the Violin Sonatas).



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Original text copyright Scott Mortensen 2002-2006