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Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Songs: The Greatest Man; At the River; Ann Street; Christmas Carol; From 'The Swimmers'; West London; Soliloquy; Evening; Charles Rutlage; Side Show; The Cage; Farewell to Land; General William Booth Enters into Heaven [27:06]
Songs, Orchestral and Ensemble pieces: Set No.1 for small orchestra [8:28]; Tone Roads No.1 (fast) - All roads lead to the centre [2:42]; From the Steeples and Mountains [3:35]; Tone Roads No. 3 - slow and fast - Rondo Rapid Transit [3:17]; Adagio sostenuto - At Sea (Set No. 3 for small orchestra No.1) [1:06]; Mists [1:39]; On the Antipodes [2:32]; The Rainbow (So may it be!) [1:51]; The Pond [1:37]; The Bells of Yale or Chapel Chimes [2:50]; The Gong on the Hook and Ladder (Firemen's Parade on Main Street) [1:49]; All the Way Around and Back [1:01]; Over the Pavements [4:40]; Set No. 2 for small orchestra [2:53]; Set for Theater or Chamber orchestra [8:33]
Marni Nixon (soprano); John McCabe (piano) (songs); Henry Herford (baritone); Ensemble Modern/Ingo Metzmacher
rec. 8-9 July 1967, Pye Records Studio No.1, ATV House, Great Cumberland Street, London (songs). ADD. 2-6 December 1991, Saal der DeutschenBank, Frankfurt. DDD


Experience Classicsonline

This is a break from the standard pattern for the American Classics line. Unlike the Copland, Gershwin, Bernstein and Barber issues this one scoops up rarities. It is not a ‘Best of’ compilation although what is here is far from inferior. The source is the contents of one CD and one LP. 

The songs for piano and voice are a magnificent restoration to the Ives discography. Marni Nixon has an unaffected and non-operatic sound which well fits the range of Ives’ songs. John McCabe is in complete sympathy with the idiom as you would expect. These songs go from the musingly thoughtful Englishry of West London to the primitive tin tabernacle of At the River. Nixon is also well in touch with the childlike tone of The Greatest Man but also springs forward for the knowing atonal hysteria of The Cage, Farewell to Land, Soliloquy, Ann Street, From 'The Swimmers' and the quirky collisions of General William Booth Enters into Heaven. Charles Rutlage is done in cowpuncher ingenuous character with a touch of sampler-sentimental. Even then there is some stunning atonality at the end. Side Show has an Irish McCormack lilt. What an extraordinary artist we hear in Marni Nixon. There really should be an Edition of her recordings. For now grab this disc if you enjoy the work of true originals in sound. 

Speaking of which we then hear Set No. 1 which is in six movements veering between Weill, Schoenberg, Satie and Webern. Both Sea and Mists are gentle poetic inspirations. Compare these with the acid harshness of the volcanic discordant piano of On the Antipodes (piano and baritone) – an ultima thule of conflict, moving from panzer assault to sentimental fluff and back to blitzkrieg in a scintillating instant. Tone Roads No. 1 is raspily dissonant and propulsive but the last movement, with its wandering tonality, trumpet cantabile and murmuring piano line, is simply magical. From the Steeples and Mountains sounds at first like a soft exercise in bells and nostalgia but raw Old Testament fanfares disrupt and scorch the music. Tone Roads No.3 starts like From the Steeples with a bell tolling and continues with the discordant chatter of the woodwind. These are almost shocking in their originality. The Rainbow and the rocking Pond take us back to the poetry of Mists and the Sea - not without atonality but light as down and impressionistic as the short atonal pieces by Fartein Valen. The Bells of Yale includes a humming chorus and Henry Herford who sings the school song; disconcerting yet heartfelt stuff. Be perplexed but let yourself enjoy this. The Gong on the Hook and Ladder is a gaunt dissonant parade of cadavers - at least that's the way it sounds to me. More peaceful yet just as dissonant and with an imperious trumpet solo and a chaos of bells is All The Way Around and Back. Over the Pavements anticipates the more acrid harmonies of Weill with a wind ensemble and a jazzy piano skipping and capering. Set No. 2 is in two movements, the first of which is a Largo - The Indians with fanfares and thoughtful figures seemingly anticipating or possibly borrowing from Stravinsky's Le Sacre. The second is Gyp the Blood which sounds like some ghastly tub-thumping rally - music in which excoriating satire is as evident as in a Grosz caricature. Aeschylus and Sophocles is dissonant but not raucous. An ensemble of pointillist strings moves steadily with a piano threading its way through and is then joined by Herford who cuts an heroic figure through the hurly-burly. The listener is then left in a dank peaceful place to meditate on the stuff of philosophical desolation. The final Set for Theater or Chamber Orchestra is in three movements. The last of these is another mood impression In the light which sways in gently shifting textures and harmonies. The strings breathe a gentle air while the horns colour the clouds. So ends this sequence of short epigrammatic and often discordant yet magically suggestive pieces. Hearing this fascinating and succinctly expressed music makes me even more keen that EMI should track down those Ruggles tapes from CBS-Sony-BMG and issue them in this series. 

This disc is evidence of a true original in sound and the originality is unclouded and yet more enthralling in these smaller formats. 

The disc also breaks with the series tradition by printing all the sung and referenced words.

This is to me a surprise winner and one in which Ives emerges as a master of dissonance and a magician of mood, evocation and suggestion.

Rob Barnett


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