IVES Symphonies Nos 3 & 4
Ludovic Morlot’s pairing of the Third and Fourth Symphonies rolls up months after Andrew Davis kicked off his Chandos cycle with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and with Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Hyperion set rewinding through the memory. The detailed intimacy of his performance and sharpness of the recorded sound is immediately apparent, contrasting noticeably with Litton’s curiously sexless and hazily impressionistic takes.
Ives’s music is a counterpoint of simultaneously developing continuities against structural disjoints, a fact Litton soft-pedals but which Morlot makes the focus of his performance. From the start of the Fourth Symphony, the Seattle engineers raise the piano in the mix, its basso profundo low register punching above its weight as expressionistic strings swarm. And you begin to get an inkling of the symphony’s vistas and perspectives: solo strings, then flute, join the piano in invoking the chamber music sections of the Concord Sonata as the orchestra and chorus muscle up the volume. The second movement is especially fine, the ragtime rhythmic energy of the opening frogmarched towards thunderous burn-out as Morlot keeps subliminal details ticking over: the microtonal skid of a honky-tonk piano shyly peeks above the orchestral frame before dragging a solo violin into its orbit, all abruptly snuffed out by a loud-mouthed, raucous marching band.
If Morlot’s Fourth Symphony is boldly modernistic and hot-blooded, leaving other recent contenders in the shade, his performance of the Third Symphony is too overtly Brahmsian for my taste – Bernstein’s 1965 NYPO performance might not be the most elegantly played, but what poetic fantasy he communicates.
The two symphonies bookend The Unanswered Question and Central Park in the Dark, Morlot’s hyper-misterioso performances reminding us that Ives originally paired the works together as Two Contemplations. David Gordon’s trumpet is soulful and crooning in the first work; and the typically close-and-personal recording walks you deep inside the harmonic mists swirling around Central Park in the Dark.