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Ives scholar James Sinclair leads the Malmö Symphony in this program of Ives rarities. Sinclair's
Ives recordings have all been revelatory, so I was anxious to jump into this new one featuring world premiere recordings of The General Slocum and the Overture in G Minor. Also included are Decoration Day, The Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Forefathers' Day, Postlude in F and the loopy Yale-Princeton Football Game.
The music has a cinematic quality, is richly colored and highly evocative of time and place. Decoration Day is the masterpiece of the set. Here's Ives dipping into a musical stream of consciousness with quotations of familiar American tunes and a kaleidoscopic whirl of sound depicting a military band. The General Slocum recounts a 1904 boating disaster and it's an eerie tone poem with hazy strings lurking beneath some banal popular tunes of the day, building tension and setting the stage for the frightening orchestral roar that depicts the on-board explosion. Have your friends try and guess who composed the Overture in G Minor (a school exercise that Ives wrote at Yale); if they say Dvorak, Brahms or Tchaikovsky they are wrong! That should give you an idea of what it sounds like. Best of all is the hyper-American The Fourth of July which has Ives pulling out all the stops in a polytonal and polyrhythmic feast of quotations from Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean and military fife and drum tattoos.
The performances are glorious. Sinclair paces the music wisely and the Malmö players are up to the challenges. I wish the sound quality of the recording was a bit more spacious, but that is quibbling when the performances are so good.