Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

CHARLES IVES (1874-1954)
Symphony No. 2 (1897-1901) 34.33
Symphony No. 2 (1944) 21.55
Detroit SO/Neeme Järvi
rec 29 April 1 May 1995, Detroit
CHANDOS CHAN 9390 (American Series vol. 8) [56.37]

Mention of Charles Ives usually sends listeners running for cover. Perhaps this is because they associate him with the exploratory complexities of the Fourth Symphony. In fact much of his output is far from belligerently adventurous. The first two symphonies have much more in common with Dvorak and Brahms than anything else.

The second symphony is unusual in being in five movements. The first is a string section-dominated andante. The second holds traces of a jolly march (recalling the hymn Bringing in the Sheaves) and elements of Bruckner and Dvorak alongside Mendelssohn (Italian Symphony). A memorably gauche helping of drum punctuation marks out the centre of the movement and a definite trombone flourish closes the allegro. The adagio cantabile is sentimental while the casual 2.15 lento takes us back to the Bach-Reger string choirs of the first movement. A snatch of Camptown Races here, a splash of Praise meeting brass band, reveille bugle calls, a helping of Smetana, Bruch (Scottish Fantasia), Dvorak and Brahms make up the bluff allegro molto vivace ending on a resounding confident dissonance. That we have the work at all is down to the work of two pioneers - Lou Harrison and Henry Cowell who reconstructed it from the composer's pencil sketches.

The Creston Symphony could hardly be more of a contrast. It has just been recorded as part of the Naxos American Classics series. In my review I omitted to mention the present disc. The Naxos neatly couples the first three Creston symphonies. Järvi's approach is one of power and subtlety. The power of the recording is startling and the soft fluttering explosion of birdsong and lyric heartbeat in the first movement probes deeply. That soft explosion echoes a similar passage in David Diamond's contemporaneous fourth symphony. The big tune is a little rushed to my ears by comparison with the steadier statement from David Amos on Koch.

This Chandos series foundered when Järvi left Detroit. A pity it did not continue as there remains a massive field to cover. For now the Chandos discs remain a beautifully presented treasure not to be forgotten. The two symphonies are such different works one wonders whether the coupling was appropriate. This pattern was true for all the Chandos American series. I keep expecting Chandos to reissue the discs - mixing and matching should not be difficult and would make an easy winner in the Enchant series.

A recommendable disc showing two contrasting facets of neglected orchestral Americana.

Rob Barnett

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