Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

IVES (1874 - 1954)
Symphony No. 2
Robert Browning Overture

Nashville Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Schermerhorn
Recorded Tennessee Performing Arts centre, Nashville, June 2000
NAXOS 8.559076
  AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Ives is one of the great originals of 20th century music, and the two works on this disc reflect that fact. The Second Symphony is a relatively early work, begun at the very beginning of the century when Ives was just setting out on his career as a 'serious' composer. The Robert Browning Overture came a little later, having been started in 1908.

Neither is a completely satisfactory work. The overture is a decidedly strange piece, and reflects a side of Browning, or perhaps rather a response to him, that will probably seem quite odd to most British listeners. It alternates dark, brooding and rather tense music with wild, blundering march-like passages, driven forward by typical Ivesian twos-against-threes.

The symphony is nominally in five movements, though the short fourth movement is probably best seen as a prelude to the finale. In its course, many popular American tunes put in an appearance, as is often the case with Ives. It opens with a leisurely Andante moderato, scored mainly for strings. Melodies quoted here include Pig Town Fling and Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean. The longer and more involved quick movement that follows occasions some alert and attractive woodwind playing from the Nashville orchestra. (Is it just me, or is there a sly reference to the first movement of Brahms' 3rd Symphony at 3'30"?)

The solemn Adagio third movement begins with an allusion to the song now known as America the Beautiful. Lovely as this movement is, I find it less convincing than the others; in it, Ives typically discursive manner seems just a touch too loose, leading to an uncertain sense of direction. As if to remedy this, the short fourth movement reminds us of the sternness of the opening, before leading into the rollicking finale. This is easily the most eventful and enjoyable part of the work, featuring references to the jolly tune Camptown Races and an increasing feeling of hilarity. The famous (notorious?) final resounding dissonance is described in the notes as a 'symphonic pie-in-the-face'. Nicely put!

These are worthy rather than outstanding performances. The orchestral playing, though not distinguished, is tidy and stylish enough. Everything is in place, intonation, ensemble and internal balance are mostly good, etc., etc. Yet there is something very unsatisfying about the recording. It lacks any sense of perspective, and has a boxy, unreal sound - disappointing by Naxos' usually high standards.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: