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OF THE MONTH
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Orchestral Set No.1 (version 1, Ed. James
B Sinclair) (c.1913-14) [18:07] (1) Impression of the ‘St
Gauden’s’ in Boston Common; 2) Putnam’s Camp; 3) The
Housatonic at Stockbridge)
Orchestral Set No.2 (1919) [15:49]
(1) An Elegy to Our Forefathers; 2) The Rockstrewn
Hills Join in the People’s Outdoor Meeting; 3) From
Hanover Square North, at the End of Tragic Day, the
Voice of the People Again Arose)
Orchestral Set No.3 (circa 1926 to
1954 and edited) [28:40] (1) Andante moderato arr.
David Gray Porter; 2) During Camp Meetin’ Week – One
Secular Afternoon (in Bethel); 3) Andante arr. Nors
Choir and Symphony Orchestra/James B Sinclair
rec. 2006-07, Konsertsalen, Malmö. DDD.
AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559353 [63:36]
have Charles Ives’ Orchestral Sets on a single
disc would have been a fantasy twenty+ years ago. In
those day the music was too often seen as a curiosity
or aberration by some crazy Yank who dabbled in musical
pastiche but was a daytime businessman. The reality is
that Ives grew up with music in his Danbury CT household
and was largely taught by his bandmaster father but also
by his mother, who was more for reading from the page.
Reviews of other Ives recordings on Naxos American Classics
was bright all-round and gained a scholarship to Yale
to study music under Horatio Parker whose approach was
boring to the young man. After much talent shown in the
distraction of football (the American sort), Ives accepted
the need to learn European ways of writing in order to
graduate. Charles had also been active in student publications
and various fraternities.
release has good notes by Jan Swafford but I take issue
with his assertion that “any combination of notes is
acceptable if you knew what you were doing with them”,
(Ives snr. to his son), because evidence is missing.
I have no reason to doubt that Charles ever wrote a note
he hadn’t chosen after Yale. The ‘first version’ of Orchestral
Set No. 1 on this disc supports my argument as Ives omitted
some aspects of the autograph score (1913-14) to facilitate
acceptance by musicians and audience.
more familiar, full, version is neither more complete
nor less because the two versions complement each other
both practically and in terms of musical veracity. While
the ‘trimmed back’ version might suit some ensembles
and venues better than ‘version 2’, James Sinclair has
done a great thing in showing that Ives’s disciplined
structures were ever in the composer’s head, in practical
terms. This blows away the patronising European hangover
that Ives was too quirky to be important.
well-known fascination with multiple rhythms, polytonality
and much more being due to hearing multiple bands and
clashing keys in downtown Danbury stretches only so far.
It might have primed the pump but Charles’s graduation
piece, Symphony No.1, is basically Germanic romanticism
with all the necessary counterpoint and convention to
pass an exam. Yet with a few challenges which Prof. Parker
allowed, most of Ives’s works are far from ‘home-spun’ and
this Naxos issue makes this point once and for all as
long as one is acquainted with most of his music. The ‘pop’,
folksy elements take up less of Ives’s music than record
companies would have had us believe. This is in the general
nature of corporations seeking the dollar but listen and then Schoenberg’s
view of Ives’s importance makes sense.
apparently stood up to a noisy audience over a performance
of music and uttered “Stand up and use your ears like
a man”. None of his works was being performed at that
concert. Other MWI readers might supply dates and facts:
maybe Webern and Ruggles were being played.
wrote in many media typical of his time. Although the
First Symphony is quasi-pastiche German Romanticism there
is profound development to be heard in the other three
numbered ones and the ‘Holidays Symphony’. The latter
is relevant to this review as the formerly unrecorded
Orchestral Set No.3 uses material from ‘Holidays’ in
the second movement.
Swafford’s notes on the First Orchestral Set are
superb because disparate pieces written over a period
long before 1913 cohered into a form similar to Debussy’s
best orchestral works made of different parts but all
related musically. The notion that composers sit down
to write something in a given form doesn’t apply to some
of the greatest. We hear this in Sinclair’s probing and so musical
version of Ives’s trimmed-down score. It is simply captivating
but I tried it against the ‘full’ versions by Tilson-Thomas
(Sony/CBS) and Dohnányi (Decca) and both versions of
the actual work make sense.
chose these releases of Version 2 as they give comparable
sonics from CD. Other versions of a certain age have
special merits - notably Johanos and the DG Tilson-Thomas
on vinyl - but a reviewer compares like with like.
DG Boston Symphony Tilson-Thomas of 1970 is available
on Arkiv CD and is still the best according to most Ives
enthusiasts. I suggest that readers set this against
Sinclair’s version as long as a good DAC is used to level
the ADD/DDD playing field. Such an important work as ‘Three
Places in New England’ (its other title) deserves due
attention in the composer’s two versions. The subtraction
of misty orchestral effects in ‘The Housatonic at Stockbridge’ takes
nothing away from the impressionism and Ives’s musical
integrity. I rather think the opposite, as genius is
never over-dressed. Considering that Ives was clear in
his language (eventually publishing in 1913-14) this
music is sobering when one considers other musical events
of that time from the top five composers in Europe. I
welcome MWI readers’ comments on this assertion.
Orchestral Set of 1917-1919 used earlier material.
Accusations that phrases in the first movement ‘Elegy
to Our Forefathers’ were cribbed from Stravinsky and
Schoenberg have no substance, particularly as the movement
also uses polyrhythms from the outset with popular
song material; all of this in a mere 16 minutes. Rather
it seems to be the case that Ives’s sonic thinking
anticipated what others were praised for.
second movement, ‘The Rock-strewn Hills Join in the People’s
Outdoor Meeting’ has a very clumsy title by European
standards but also shades of William Blake (1770-1827)
who had no time for fashion in his own time. Ives takes
a mere five minutes to take us into a sonic world of
austere mountains and small, decent people doing ordinary
things. His secret is to use a changing heartbeat undertone
in the basses and cellos. The fact that the tempo is
arrhythmic tells us more than the verbose title. Ives
was fascinated by the scale of grand nature dwarfing
the small affairs of people and yet the pulse
third movement title is even longer (see the heading).
It is explanatory of the events of 7 May 1915 when Ives
was on his way home from his New York office and the
news of the sinking of the ‘Lusitania’ by German submarines
was breaking. America had stayed out of the Great War
but the loss of so many citizens on the ship - which
indeed was carrying arms to Britain and France - made
entry into the war inevitable.
Sinclair scores over Dohnányi with the Cleveland Orchestra
and Morton Gould’s premiere recording for RCA (hard to
find these days) is in the chorus being used quietly
to illustrate Ives’s experience of people breaking into
hymn singing. It would have been halting, sad and not
as up-front as represented on some releases. The music
isn’t Mahler’s large choruses - which Ives heard in New
York when Mahler conducted there - and Sinclair’s musicologist
side appreciated that.
Second Orchestral Set is tough to get right and the quiet
end in C puzzles some but what would Ives and his wife
do ‘at the end of a tragic day’ but be normal and routine?
The last bar is turning out the light? Sinclair gets
this dead right, whereas Dohnányi lapses into making
oddly Berg-like gestures which detract from the fact
that this music is not European. Ives anticipated many
developments in western music but Berg heard no Ives.
Ives might have heard some Berg after he had ceased composing
but the streams have no historical meeting. Dohnányi’s
recording is from the 1990s so the leakage is too recent
to be forgivable and Sinclair’s version takes the gold
medal in all respects.
Orchestral Set poses the usual question of validity
when a work is ‘completed’ by other hands. Cooke’s
Mahler 10, Payne’s Elgar 3 and what Rimsky did with
(or to) Mussorgsky spring to mind. I admit to having
being suspicious about notes stating ‘edited by’ or ‘realized
by’ until I had understood the issues.
notes describe (brilliantly) what happened to Ives at
the age of 53 (1927) when he broke down in tears and
told his wife Harmony that he couldn’t complete the works
on his desk. Some Ives scholars imply that his heart
attacks were mentally based but treatment for his chronic
diabetes back then was primitive and subjective hindsight
is a waste of time. Suffice to say that Ives was a semi-invalid
from 1927 to his death in 1954 and the main casualty
for music was possibly the Third Orchestral Set.
longest of the three at nearly half an hour, it uses
the slow-fast-slow pattern of the others but the mostly
complete draft of the first movement is a very serious
affair. It has the same sort of orchestration as Ives
used in the mighty Fourth Symphony (1916) and the re-scored ‘Holidays
Symphony’ (1897-1913 to 1919).
fact that Ives added notes right up to 1951 upholds the
veracity of what David Gray Porter and Nors Josephson
presented to Prof Swafford and James Sinclair. I doubt
that Sinclair’s academic integrity would have allowed
him to conduct this marvel except for that evidential
second movement ‘During Camp Meetin’ Week – One Secular
Afternoon’ runs to 9:46 and uses aspects of ‘Holidays…’ with
Ives’s own orchestration. The third movement (Andante)
realized from the composer’s notes by Nors Josephson
sits more easily than the second (which I think should
be longer). The scholarship surrounding revisions to
the third and fourth symphonies (to dispense with a second
conductor) show that Ives was moving towards what we
have here. And what we have here is nothing short of
genius at work over a career, applied musicology of the
Malmö Symphony Orchestra and Chorus show its international
standing, superb recording and production and all under
conductor James Sinclair. Celebrity conductors have their
place but some music also needs a scholar by training
who conducts with innate authority; that is a description
of James B Sinclair. He reminds me of Abravanel in his
pioneering Ives on Vanguard and Morton Gould with the
Chicago Symphony when Ives was being discovered in the
1970s - a bit late as he had died in 1954.
Naxos release is a great moment in the history of recorded
music. I ask other MWI readers and reviewers to request
finishing the five symphonies (2 & 3 have already
been released) to be priority issues for Naxos.
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