CHARLES IVES/ HENRY BRANT: A Concord Symphony; COPLAND: Organ Sym. – Paul Jacobs, organ/ San Francisco Sym./ Michael Tilson Thomas – SFS Media

by | Mar 17, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

CHARLES IVES/ HENRY BRANT: A Concord Symphony; COPLAND: Organ Symphony – Paul Jacobs, organ/ San Francisco Symphony/ Michael Tilson Thomas – SFS Media multichannel SACD  SFS 0038, 77:07 *****:
Moving on from their Mahler recording cycle which won seven Grammies, Michael Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony released last month two new SACDs, of which this is one. We’ll be reviewing the other, a Beethoven disc, shortly.
Ives’ Concord Sonata is one of the modern classics of the piano literature. He worked on it from 1904 to 1947, and it was intended to give an impression of the spirit of the New England Transcendentalists. The four movements are titled “Emerson,” “Hawthorne,” “The Alcotts” and “Thoreau.”  It’s an extraordinary piano sonata which can still – as Ives would have said – stretch the ears a bit. Canadian avant composer Henry Brant – who lived until 2008 – was inspired by the attempt Ives had made to inject some additional instrumental color into his sonata by adding an optional part for solo viola in the first movement and flute in the last. He worked for six years on an orchestration of the sonata, saying that his goal was not to create the wild orchestral textures of Ives himself, but to make a symphonic poem presenting Ives’ amazing music in more clear and strong sonorities in the orchestra. Keeping the improvisatory feeling of the original in the orchestral version was not easy for Brant.  I would say he succeeds; I always found the piano version rather difficult to listen to but the orchestral treatment seems to make more sense musically, and the SF Symphony meets its extraordinary challenges beautifully. Brant’s orchestration is ideally suited for surround playback since the composer’s primary calling card was his expertise at the creation of compositions that made use of the spatial element.
MTT engaged in some ingenious programming by pairing the Concord with Aaron Copland’s Organ Symphony.  It was Copland’s first attempt to write for a large symphony orchestra, and Paul Jacobs has a very difficult organ solo part. There are passages of massive sound that are not that different from Ives at a few points, and also a frequently jazzy feeling to some sections of the three-movement work.  The Finale is by far the longest and most developed.  The Ruffatti organ in the SF Symphony’s hall sounds superb and the mix of organ and orchestral sound is gloriously reproduced by the 5.0-channel hi-res surround of the SACD.
— John Sunier

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