CHARLES IVES: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4; Central Park in the Dark – Dallas Symphony/ Andrew Litton – Hyperion CHARLES IVES: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3 “The Camp Meeting;” General William Booth enters into Heaven – Dallas Symphony/ Andrew Litton – Hyperion

by | May 2, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

CHARLES IVES: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4; Central Park in the Dark – Dallas Symphony Orchestra/ Andrew Litton – Hyperion Multichannel SACDA67540, 78:25 *****:

CHARLES IVES: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3 “The Camp Meeting;” General William Booth enters into Heaven – Dallas Symphony Orchestra/ Andrew Litton; Donnie Ray Albert, baritone (Booth) – Hyperion Multichannel SACDA67525, 69:26 *****:

The orchestral music of Ives makes just as excellent a candidate for hi-res surround reproduction via SACD as the IMAX imagery of the film Chronos (which I just reviewed in our DVD Section) does for Blu-ray 1080p display.  There are often so many different and conflicting tunes and types of music going on simultaneously in Ives that on most standard recordings it becomes a hodgepodge. Ives’ music professor, Horatio Parker, thought of him as a wild and crazy guy.  Ives had to hold his iconoclastic compositional ideas in check in the writing of his First Symphony, which was a glorified homework assignment. Dvorak seems to be the main musical mentor emulated here. It is similar to Stravinsky’s First Symphony, which is a fine work – it just sounds nothing like Stravinsky.

The Second is probably the best place to start to appreciate the stridently democratic Ives musical philosophy. Its form is that of a big late-Romantic symphony, similar to Brahms or Dvorak.  But here and there brave little popular and folk melodies pop out, including America the Beautiful, Pigtown Fling, the hymn Beulah Land, Capetown Races, Columbia the Gem of the Ocean. The whole thing is a sort of joyous revolution in sound and it was not only the first symphonic work with a genuine American voice but possibly the best example ever of just that.

The Third Symphony employs transcriptions of short organ works which Ives had written in his work as church organist and choirmaster. They hark back to the gospel hymns sung at camp meetings and quote a number of them. Ives described his Fourth Symphony as a work about ultimate questions – the What? and Why? which man’s spirit asks of life. It has so many coinciding elements that it requires two conductors! The short Prelude presages the battle between march and hymn of the second movement. The second or scherzo movement is subtitled The Comedy, and is a rip-roaring ride. The third movement is a Fugue which quotes the hymn From Greenland’s Icy Mountains. The Largo final movement has murmuring voices and a mystical mood. One of the quoted hymns is Nearer My God To Thee.  Ives wanted the symphony, though based on his own Protestantism, to be a work of universal religion.

The filler selections on the two SACDs are two prime examples of Ives genius in smaller forms. Central Park in the Dark could be called expressionistic, but is quite different from Debussy and Ravel. It evokes the ambience of sitting in the New York park in the late 1890s, but rather than being just a sound picture it attempts to make an impression on the soul of the listener.  General William Booth was the founder of the Salvation Army, and Ives’ piece for baritone and orchestra is based on a Vachel Lindsay poem, preserving the mix of the spiritual and the comic which it conveys.

Litton wrings the full range of Ives’ no-holds-barred approach in these works, differing not much from the dramatic approach of the conductor who helped introduce Ives to a wider public – Leonard Bernstein. But the sonics are of course light years improved. Hyperion’s hi-res surround provides a good impression of the fine acoustics of the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas. The dynamic range is also very wide.  The note booklets are well done.

– John Sunier

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