IVES A Symphony: New England Holidays
The two early Ives symphonies recorded by the same team (5/15) are relatively plain sailing compared with some of these pieces, which are just as shocking as they always have been. I mean the great blasts of glorious frenzy in Central Park in the Dark (the piano melody is the 1899 song hit ‘Hello, my baby’); ‘The Fourth of July’; and the second and third movements of Three Places in New England, all written – amazingly – in the early years of the last century. The difference between the many recordings depends on which elements of an overcrowded texture are allowed to dominate. For example, Ives quotes his own Country Band March in ‘Putnam’s Camp’ – it’s first heard early on in the strings, but at the last climax, with everything else going on as well, it’s less prominent with the Melbourne performance than in some. That’s all part of the richness of the Ives experience.
Another aspect is the work editors have had to do with these scores and the trouble conductors must still take to mobilise such pieces in the first place. Andrew Davis, in a supplementary note, admits that the distant sounds in ‘Thanksgiving’ and ‘Forefathers’ Day’ were recorded separately as the only way of making them audible. The four works comprising A Symphony: New England Holidays are best performed individually but it’s a rare opportunity to have them all together here.
The Unanswered Question is quintessential Ives. The flute chorus is too loud at first and different recordings don’t agree about the final note of the trumpet solo – but that’s Ives too. Bringing all these pieces together in dedicated modern performances, with imaginative balance decisions, this disc is a welcome landmark.