James Sinclair / Orchestra New England / "The Orchestral Music of Charles Ives" (Koch 3-7025-2) This recording includes:
Sinclair's "Three Places" is my favorite recording of the work, so this disc earns my highest rating. The other compositions on this disc are shorter works, and several of them are world-premiere recordings. They may not be well known, but they're all wonderful. This recording demonstrates the power of Ives' shorter works when performed by a sympathetic orchestra and conductor. I can't recommend this disc highly enough. It's essential listening for anyone even remotely interested in Ives' music.
James Sinclair / Yale Theater Orchestra / "Old Songs Deranged: Music for Theater Orchestra" (Columbia Masterworks M 32969, out of print) This recording includes:
This is another "classic" Ives performance on the Columbia label that deserves to be re-issued. Sinclair's LP features Ives' compositions that are grounded in the popular, vernacular music of his youth. And it sounds great! The marches are high-stepping, toe-tapping, swaggering romps. The sound of the orchestra is perfect--in other words, nowhere near perfect. But it's completely idomatic. This recording does such a good job of evoking Ives' description of a "marching band with wings" that it practically smells like Ives. The other works are wonderful too. Pieces like "Mists" and "Evening" conjure Victorian salon music filtered through the nostalgia of intervening years. There's a sepia-toned delicacy in these works. Only "Chromatimelodtune" doesn't seem to fit. It's interesting--one of Ives' wildest experiments in sound. But it sounds out of place with the other works on this recording. That work aside, all of these other pieces will bring a quick smile to your face. Yes, this may be "easy" Ives, but that doesn't make it any less vital.
Henry Herford (baritone) / Ingo Metzmacher / Ensemble Modern / "A Portrait of Charles Ives" (EMI CDC7 54552-2, out-of-print)
This recording includes:
Metzmacher is a superb conductor of Ives' music and the short works on this disc are thoroughly convincing. There's a pleasing, ragged quality to the playing here, which I think is intentional on Metzmacher's part. The ensemble has the feel of one of Ives' much-loved theater orchestras, rather than going for the refinement that's more appropriate for other composers. (In no way does this raggedness reduce the sometimes strange or more contemporary aspects in the works. In fact, it seems to enhance them.) The Metzmacher disc succeeds brilliantly in its intention of presenting a "Portrait of CEI." Unfortunately, this CD is out of print. Keep your eyes open for a used copy.
H. Robert Reynolds / Detroit Chamber Winds and Friends / "Remembrance: A Charles Ives Collection" (Koch International Classics KIC 7182) This recording includes:
This is another recording that does a good job of capturing the brassy, playful side of Ives. If you're not spinning vinyl anymore, this disc is similar in feeling to the Sinclair "Old Songs Deranged" LP that I describe above. But the Detroit Chamber players can't quite muster the rowdy naturalness of the Yale band. Even so, this one is worth tracking down. (Unfortunately, I think it may be out of print.)
Leonard Bernstein / New York Philharmonic Orchestra (DG 2GH 429220) This recordings includes:
Along with the Second Symphony and the "Two Contemplations," Bernstein and the NYPO perform four more short works that rarely make it to record. These pieces don't pack quite the wallop that Sinclair generates with the Orchestra New England, but they're still worth investing. The Second Symphony is solid too. But Lenny's Sony recording of that work is even better.
James Sinclair / Northern Sinfonia (Naxos 8.559087, coupled with ) This recording includes:
Sinclair record these two marches in the 1970's for Columbia. They're available on the "Old Songs Deranged" LP described above. Obviously, these Naxos recordings will be much easier to obtain, but I still prefer the wonderfully uninhibited sound that Sinclair gets from the Yale SO. (Until Columbia / Sony re-issues these recordings, you've got to keep that turntable running!)
Donald Hunsberger / Eastman Wind Ensemble / "Live in Osaka" (Sony 47198, coupled with works by various composer)
This recording includes a raucous, fun version of Ives' "Country Band March." Excellent stuff that very much captures the Ivesian spirit! (I can't comment on the other works on this disc, as I haven't heard them.)
Gunther Schuller / unnamed orchestra / "Calcium Light Night" (Columbia Masterworks MS 7318, out of print) This recording includes:
This out-of-print LP is made up of short works by CEI, including the Sets for Small Orchestra and other pieces. The Sets for Small Orchestra lack the precision and impact of Richard Bernas' recording with the Music Project/London. Turn to that disc for the best versions of these miniature masterpieces. Otherwise, there's nothing wrong here, but--taken as a whole--this LP never really seems to catch fire.
Harold Farberman / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Vanguard Cardinal Series VCS-10013, out of print) This recording includes:
This LP includes a good, rowdy arrangement of "The Circus Band" for orchestra. But, unless you're a completist, it's probably not worth tracking down this rare LP. You can hear this same work on MTT's RCA disc "Charles Ives: An American Journey." And that version includes choral accompaniment.
Leonard Slatkin / The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (RCA Victor Red Seal 09026-6122-2) This recording includes:
I'm not much of a fan of Slatkin's Ives. But if you'd like to hear the Fugue in Four Keys or the March III with the air "Old Kentucky Home" in full orchestral arrangements on CD, then you should seek out this disc. For the other works, I'd look elsewhere.
Unknown Soviet Conductor and Orchestra / "Highlights from 'Alternatives,' a Series of Performances of Soviet Avant Garde Music" (Arts & Electronics / MCA Classics AED-68000, out of print) This recording includes Ives' "Calcium Light Night" and other works by various other modern composers, out of print)
Ives' "Calcium Light Night" is incongruously included on this disc of works dedicated to Soviet avant garde music. It's a solid performance, but you will have much less difficulty tracking down the work elsewhere, most notably on the CD conducted by James Sinclair titled "The Orchestral Music of Charles Ives" (Koch). Incidentally, other works included on this CD, which have little or no relationship to Ives' music, are very interesting also.
Original text copyright © Scott Mortensen 2002-2006