This is the fourth release in the Naxos
series of recordings
with James Sinclair of orchestral music by Charles Ives and it
includes two world première recordings, The General
and Overture in g minor
, both presented in
realisations by David Porter. It’s not as if the world
has been pining for recordings of these works, but they are well
worth hearing - the first commemorating the death of over a thousand
people when a pleasure steamer blew up, the latter a Yale assignment,
hardly recognisable as the work of Ives; like the first symphony,
it might well have been written by Brahms or Dvořák.
Despite which, I really like the First Symphony. I used to have
the Abravanel recording on Vanguard; I must investigate the more
recent offerings - will it be Sinclair/Naxos, Järvi/Chandos
or Litton/Hyperion? - perhaps in a forthcoming Download Roundup.
Those who steer clear of Ives’ reputation as an enfant
may be reassured that there’s nothing really
shocking in this programme, the main part of which is made up
of three movements from his Holidays Symphony. Even the glorious
chaos at the end of The Fourth of July
is good fun, evocative
of a boy’s-eye view of the parade and the marching bands.
The marvel is that Ives composed this work long before it became
fashionable to write about aleatoric music, polytonality and
I’m a little puzzled why it was necessary to carve up the
symphony, with its first movement, Washington’s Birthday
on another Naxos CD, 8.559087, and its movements separated by
the other items here. I know that the four movements were originally
conceived as separate tone poems, but it would have been more
logical to keep them together. There would have been enough space
on the new recording to have included the whole symphony, even
at the cost of duplicating that one movement.
You’ll see from the Musicweb
of recordings of the symphony that I’m not alone
in this preference, though James Sinclair’s recording with
the Northern Sinfonia of Washington’s Birthday
the earlier CD receives an otherwise strong recommendation. Whatever
reservations I may have, I liked the contrast between the quiet
opening of Decoration Day
, at the start of the CD, and Thanksgiving
and Forefathers’ Day
, which makes a resounding conclusion
to the recording.
Apart from the two premières, there are two other rarities
on the new CD, the Postlude
which Ives originally conceived
as an organ piece and subsequently orchestrated, and the commemoration
of a famous Yale-Princeton varsity match. They are both pleasant
enough, though hardly vintage Ives, and the performances make
a good case for them.
James Sinclair is a noted Ives scholar and his earlier recordings
for Naxos have been well received, so it comes as no surprise
that everything here sounds thoroughly idiomatic. Those earlier
recordings have been with the National Symphony Orchestra of
Ireland and the Northern Sinfonia of England. Unlike the Nashville
Symphony Orchestra, who recorded Symphony No.2
and the Robert
for Naxos with kennethe Schermerhorn at
the helm, neither of these is exactly to the Ivesian manner born,
any more than the Malmö performers on the current CD and
on Sinclair’s recording of Three Orchestral Sets
yet everything here continues the good work of the earlier discs.
Stephen Hall made that earlier Malmö recording of the Orchestral
his Recording of the Month (8.559353 - see review
not least because it brought the three works together. If I am
marginally less impressed with the current CD, it’s for
the opposite reason, the disintegration of the Holidays Symphony.
The recording is good, with a wide dynamic range - from the almost
inaudible opening chords of Decoration Day
to the cataclysmic
sound of the boat’s boiler exploding in The General
and the conflicting marching bands in The Fourth
The presentation is good, too, with notes, by Jan Swafford, which
are readable and informative and a wonderful collage on the front
cover, painted by James Bigelow Hall, grandnephew of Ives.
My review copy came with the Naxos American Classics Catalog,
a reminder of the impressive credentials which this series has
already established for itself. The quality of the current offering
is no exception. It prompts me to investigate Sinclair’s
other Ives recordings and several more works in the series which
I’ve missed out on.
see also review by Bob