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Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Variations on ‘America’ (arr. Rhoads) [6:24]
Overture and March ‘1776’ (arr. Sinclair) [2:55]
They are There! (A War Song March) (arr. Sinclair) [2:59]
Old Home Days: Suite for Band (arr. Elkus) [8:00]
March Intercollegiate (arr. Brion) [3:32]
Fugue in C (arr. Sinclair) [6:31]
March: ‘Omega Lambda Chi’ (arr. Brion) [3:02]
Variations on ‘Jerusalem the Golden’ (arr. Brion) [4:15]
A Son of a Gambolier (arr. Elkus) [3:50]
Postlude in F (arr. Singleton) [4:24]
‘Country Band’ March (arr. Sinclair) [4:20]
Decoration Day (arr. Elkus) [8:15]
Charlie Rutlage (arr. Sinclair) [2:36]
The Circus Band (arr. Elkus) [2:44]
Runaway Horse on Main Street (arr. Sinclair) [1:16]
March No.6 with ‘Here’s to Good Old Yale’ (arr. Elkus) [2:52]
‘The Alcotts’ (arr. Elkus) [5:56]
‘The President’s Own’ United States Marine Band/Colonel Timothy W. Foley
rec. Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall, Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria, USA, 2-6 June 2003. DDD
Programme notes in English

I have to confess to being slightly apprehensive about reviewing this disc. As a long-time admirer of Charles Ives’ music and being less than intimately familiar with the work of ‘The President’s Own’ United States Marine Band, I was not sure how well some of this complex music would come across. My concerns were almost immediately dispelled with the rousing, no-holds-barred rendition of the Variations on ‘America’. Billed in the excellent CD notes by Jonathan Elkus as ‘Transcribed by William E. Rhoads from William Schuman’s orchestration of E. Power Biggs’ edition of Ives’ variations for organ’, this version of Ives’ early mini-masterpiece works very convincingly. The sound is warm, yet detailed and well balanced, with a wonderfully sonorous bass drum which is evident throughout the CD.
This collection might appear as a string of arrangements but this is a confusing area with Ives. Many of Ives’ works were left in sketched or fragmentary forms and people like James Sinclair and Kenneth Singleton have had to make musical judgements as to the maverick composer’s intentions. Sinclair’s realisations of many of Ives’ works were painstakingly and lovingly done and several of them were given orchestral arrangements. Orchestral transcriptions of the Country Band March, the Circus Band March and the Overture and March ‘1776’ have appeared on James Sinclair’s own recordings with the Orchestra New England (Koch 3-7025-2) and the Northern Sinfonia (Naxos 8.559087 - see review). However, given that Ives was so inspired by the various bands in his native Danbury in Connecticut, perhaps the realisations on this disc might be closer to the sounds Ives would have had in his head. Is it not unreasonable to envision that such rumbustious works as these would have had the sound of the military band in Ives’ imagination?
The Country Band March and the Overture and March ‘1776’ both have a degree of polyrhythmic and polytonal complexity. After the relatively straightforward language of the Variations on ‘America’, I was looking forward to hearing these performances. I’m not sure how often the ‘President’s Own’ United States Marine Band is required to play this type of music but they acquit themselves with great aplomb. Being able to compare them with other recordings by more ‘traditional’ forces, I can say that the band is fully up to the task and, I’m sure, produces the sorts of sounds that the bands of New England which so inspired Ives to write this music would have had. However, on occasion the lack of a wide range of timbral differentiation such as one would get in an orchestra including strings - there are none here, save for one or more double basses bolstering the bottom line – does mean that some of the individual voices in the more complex sections can be masked. This is evident, for example, near the end of the Country Band march where some of the quotations are more easily discernable in the orchestral version. I also missed the often all-so-important piano parts, arranged out of these versions. Some of this music will be familiar to some listeners; a conflation of 1776 and Country Band later became Putnam’s Camp – the middle movement of Three Places in New England.
Some of these pieces were clearly always intended as band works – the marches Intercollegiate and Omega lambda chi and the Variations on ‘Jerusalem the Golden’ were clearly sketched out as pieces for band and were merely skilfully arranged by Keith Brion for larger forces for this recording. Much of the music on this disc comes from early in Ives’ career and provides a fascinating glimpse into his development as a renegade composer of some of the craziest and most complex music committed to paper. If one piece on this CD didn’t really work for me it was the arrangement of Decoration Day from the Holidays Symphony. I’m not sure why Jonathan Elkus arranged it but it is here – in what is so obviously an orchestral piece – where one is most conscious of the music having been ‘arranged’. That having been said, the transcription is ingenious, such as where the glissando chords, so effective on strings in the original orchestral version, are very effectively imitated by the woodwinds at 4:01. Of course, the central marching band section works admirably!
Much is made in the booklet notes of the links between Charles Ives and his slightly older contemporary John Philip Sousa. In the music as it is presented here, one can clearly see that these two composers shared a heritage and a vision for American music. Although their paths diverged a great deal later on in their careers, some of the music here shows that, in the early years at least, Charles Ives was not so far away.
Reading the credits for this disc, it was obvious that this recording was done very much ‘in house’ – recording, editing, mastering and production all being done by Marine personnel. I have listened to this disc time and time again and have derived much pleasure from its professionalism, its technical prowess but, above all, the obvious joy of the performers when playing the music of arguably America’s greatest musical hero. In short, this CD is a lot of fun and I thoroughly enjoyed being converted to the United States Marine Band’s way of making music.
Derek Warby

see also review by Dan Morgan


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