Charles Ives: Decoration Day; Fourth of July; Thanksgiving

Charles Ives: Decoration Day; Fourth of July; Thanksgiving

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by James Sinclair
     
 

There's a school of thought that subscribes to the notion that Charles Ives' "New England Holidays Symphony" is not really effective as a symphony. The pieces of its four movements were all written separately, and as such logic may dictate, these works are more effective singly than combined. Indeed, the traditional ordering of Washington's Birthday -- Decoration Day … See more details below

Overview

There's a school of thought that subscribes to the notion that Charles Ives' "New England Holidays Symphony" is not really effective as a symphony. The pieces of its four movements were all written separately, and as such logic may dictate, these works are more effective singly than combined. Indeed, the traditional ordering of Washington's Birthday -- Decoration Day -- The Fourth of July -- Thanksgiving and Forefather's Day works to the disadvantage of the final, longest movement of the symphony. Decoration Day has more than earned its worth as a separate entity; Aaron Copland used to program it in his own concerts and once mentioned it among a short list of Ives works he felt were "among the finest works ever created by an American artist." However -- partly due to the many recordings the "Holidays Symphony" has enjoyed as a contiguous unit -- there are some who would never accept any version in which some part is separated from the whole. Therefore, some listeners probably won't much care for Naxos' Charles Ives: Holidays Symphony II, III, and IV, which dispenses with the first movement -- already featured on Naxos' disc of Ives' "Third Symphony" -- and fills in the gap with other Ives pieces, two of which have never been recorded before. As in past volumes of this Naxos series, Ives expert and editor James Sinclair leads the Malmö Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, performing the Ives Society critical editions of the "Holidays Symphony" sections made in the 1980s and first recorded by Michael Tilson Thomas for Sony, rather than the old Peer and Associated scores issued in the 1950s and '60s; though there never was one for Thanksgiving and the first edition of The Fourth of July appeared in 1932. In this volume, more so than any other in this series, there seems to be trouble with some of the very, very quiet things in Ives registering on the recording. You really can't hear the endings of Decoration Day nor the Fourth of July, both of which follow very loud sections, which record well; the boom of the bass drum, in particular, is more clearly heard here than in almost any other recording of Ives. By comparison, the familiar Leonard Bernstein recordings of the Holidays -- all made separately, in the 1960s -- will seem livelier and more spirited not only due to the performance but because CBS Masterworks used a lot of gating and compression that ensured nothing they recorded dipped below mezzo-forte on the user end. So Ives' extremes of volume may seem really extreme here, and pieces like Decoration Day not as busy as previous versions, partly due to Naxos' less than responsive sound and partly due to the revised critical edition in use. As to the new entries, "The General Slocum" (1906) was Ives' musical representation of a massive steamboat explosion, the equivalent of the Loma Prieta earthquake in its day in terms of public interest, except that the explosion of "The General Slocum" in 1904 managed to kill more people by comparison. Ives pictorializes the tragic event cinematically in widescreen, Technicolor hues, with playful popular tunes of the day chattering away in counterpoint with an ostinato suggesting the gentle cadence of the paddlewheel in an effect similar to the handling of pre-disaster moments in the films of Sam Peckinpah. The source score -- only two pages in length -- is so sketchy that it is amazing editor David G. Porter managed to extract nearly six minutes of music from it. Ives' Brahmsian "Overture in G minor" (1895), incomplete in the source, is believed to have been a student work composed for Horatio T. Parker's class at Yale; if so, Parker prepared him well, as Ives could have gotten away with writing romantic orchestral music of this kind for the next 30 years and enjoyed relative success at it. But then he wouldn't be Ives. The editorially supplied ending is not very satisfactory and suggests unfamiliarity with the idiom of the rest, but in the incomplete score materials Ives doesn't really indicate where the end is supposed to be. This is the second time around for Sinclair on record in "Yale-Princeton Football Game" and the early "Postlude in F," which sounds like an orchestral transcription of an organ postlude of the kind that would have pleased Dudley Buck, Ives' organ instructor at Yale. Compared to the earlier Sinclair recordings -- with Orchestra New England for Koch -- the "Postlude in F" is decidedly an improvement, where with "Yale-Princeton Football Game" it's more of a draw; both recordings have their relative advantages. In sum, one can't imagine a true Ivesian not wanting to hear "The General Slocum" and overall it is a fair rendering of some highly dense and difficult music for any orchestra to play. But doubtless Naxos' Charles Ives: Holidays Symphony II, III, and IV will prove one of the most controversial entries in the series by virtue of its less than satisfying sound and the interleaving of the incompletely presented major work in between other, less than familiar things.

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Product Details

Release Date:
10/27/2009
Label:
Naxos American
UPC:
0636943937020
catalogNumber:
8559370
Rank:
156242

Tracks

  1. A Symphony: New England Holidays (Holidays Symphony), for orchestra, S. 5 (K. 1A4): 2. Decoration Day  - Charles Ives  -  Malmö Symphony Orchestra  -  Malmö Symphony Chorus  - James Sinclair  - James Bigelow Hall
  2. The General Slocum, for orchestra, S. 37 (K. 1B4) (incomplete)  - Charles Ives  -  Malmö Symphony Orchestra  -  Malmö Symphony Chorus  - James Sinclair  - James Bigelow Hall
  3. Overture in G minor, for orchestra, S. 25 (K. 1B2) (incomplete)  - Charles Ives  -  Malmö Symphony Orchestra  -  Malmö Symphony Chorus  - James Sinclair  - James Bigelow Hall
  4. A Symphony: New England Holidays (Holidays Symphony), for orchestra, S. 5 (K. 1A4): 3. The Fourth of July  - Charles Ives  -  Malmö Symphony Orchestra  -  Malmö Symphony Chorus  - James Sinclair  - James Bigelow Hall
  5. Yale-Princeton Football Game, for orchestra, S. 51 (K. 1B3)  - Charles Ives  -  Malmö Symphony Orchestra  -  Malmö Symphony Chorus  - James Sinclair  - James Bigelow Hall
  6. Postlude in F, for orchestra in F major, S. 41 (K. 1B1)  - Charles Ives  -  Malmö Symphony Orchestra  -  Malmö Symphony Chorus  - James Sinclair  - James Bigelow Hall
  7. A Symphony: New England Holidays (Holidays Symphony), for orchestra, S. 5 (K. 1A4): 4. Thanksgiving and Forefather's Day  - Charles Ives  -  Malmö Symphony Orchestra  -  Malmö Symphony Chorus  - James Sinclair  - James Bigelow Hall

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