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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Holidays Symphony: Washington’s Birthday; Decoration Day; The Fourth of July; Thanksgiving and Forefather’s Day (1913)
Central Park In The Dark (1907)
Rundfunk-Sinfonie Orchestra and Rundfunkchor of Leipzig/Wolf Dieter Hauschild
Recorded in 1980 (no other details given)
BERLIN CLASSICS ETERNA COLLECTION 0032462BC [50.25]


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Charles Ives’ music can still appear to be so very shocking and original. It is easy to forget that he developed and changed his language after he turned thirty. Many hearing his name think of his later music. The later Ives is the composer of polytonal, polyrhythmic works with masses of musical quotations piled on top of each other. However there is another side to him; at least one.

It took me many years to realize that Ives is almost entirely a composer of nostalgia. Everything he writes from about 1905 onwards, when he was just about thirty, is a reminiscence of his childhood in an America fast disappearing. This was the pioneering America of marching bands and evangelical hymns. This was also a land in which childhood imagination was still fresh and in which the dark seemed to be from another planet.

In his Third Symphony ‘The Camp Meeting’, started in 1904, Ives weaves hymns into each other in an atmosphere of ‘Old Folks gathering’ or ‘First Communion’. The melodies are recognizable, tonal and placed carefully in a fairly conventional harmonic framework. In the ‘Holidays’ symphony (1911-16) and in ‘Central Park in the Dark’ (1906) the basic harmony is bitonal or polytonal. Unrelated chords float by in polyrhythms. A disembodied jazz band haunts the distant landscape. Others appear. They play differing melodies at the same time. The sound builds, reaches a climax of polymelody and suddenly, as if a light is switched off, all ends. The original atmosphere, normally a bed of bitonal string chords, continues as if nothing had ever happened. It is as if Ives’ imagination increases in strength, like a conversationalist who says "do you remember so and so … and what about him … oh and then we had … but the …". Suddenly realizing that he is rambling he stops, becomes aware of those around him and the imagination is lost and fades. This is the plan of ‘Central Park’, ‘The Fourth of July’ and other works.

Dynamic contrast in Ives can be quite extreme and quite sudden. It is irritating if the listener has continually to be adjusting the volume during the course of a ten-minute piece. One moment it is too quiet; the next the neighbours are complaining. This is the problem which it seems to me haunts the recording by Michael Tilson Thomas with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, recorded for CBS Masterworks in 1986 and now available on Sony. The orchestral playing is the best on disc but the volume is at too low a level and when turned up sounds scratchy. The bells in ‘Washington’s birthday’ are just too distant. This newly released recording from 1982 does not suffer from this problem. Nevertheless listening on headphones is best especially if they have their own volume control as adjustment may still be necessary. At the main climax of ‘The Fourth of July’ the sound in this Eterna recording is slightly congested. Generally however the recording is immediate and clear. The orchestral playing is excellent.

Ives was not bothered about practicality. In the 4th Symphony the chorus enter briefly in Movement 1 and are then silent. In the Orchestral Set No. 3 they sing at the start only of Movement 3. In the ‘Holidays Symphony’ they are heard for just a few bars in the 4th movement - over thirty minutes into the work. Nevertheless they must sound confident and clear. Wolf-Dieter Hauschild extracts the best from them and the balance between male and female is excellent.

So, to sum up … this is a good disc even if providing rather short measure. This is a performance of the music that will not disappoint. The rendering of ‘Central Park in the dark’ a notoriously complex. It is a difficult score to bring off but here it is carefully played and most atmospheric. In Hauschild’s ‘Holidays Symphony’ not a raucous noise is heard from end to end. The music is beautifully and sensitively played with excellent engineering. Recommended.
Gary Higginson




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