Ives liked to put together smaller independently-composed orchestral pieces into a sort of suite he called a “set.” Sinclair is an Ives historian and researcher, and he engaged two others to reconstruct the unfinished pieces which constituted the composer’s Third Orchestral Set, so this is its recording premiere. (It’s a sad comment on the musician’s union and absurd costs of recording symphony orchestras in the U.S. that this echt-Americana project had to be recorded in Sweden!)
But it’s a winner in every way. The more familiar First Set is given a rousing performance that preserves every bit of its Americana. The sonics are good, but this material cries out for hi-res surround sound. Since that’s not possible, I auditioned it on headphones to better appreciate Ives’ “conflicts-be-damned” musical approach. I sat in the sun on my deck with eyes closed, trying to get into Ives’ stream-of-conscousness musical meanderings, and it worked beautifully. The Hanover Square piece ending the Second Set is especially moving. The tragic day of which Ives speaks was May 7, 1915, when the U.S. learned that a German submarine had sunk the Lusitania ocean liner, making WWI imminent. The crowd at the Hanover Square train station where Ives was waiting suddenly broke into a gospel hymn.
The unfinished Third Set was the only one Ives had planned as a whole from the start. Only the center of the three pieces has a program title; he didn’t get that far with the other two due to his serious problems with diabetes and a heart attack. Both of the Andante movements have a quiet and atmospheric mood which Ives experts dub “late-Ives Sublime Style.” The center portion is most lively, as befits its title. It quotes with much glee many tunes from the composer’s youth. The discovery of this Third Set is felt by Ives scholars to be a profound landmark in their ongoing efforts to reconstruct the uncompleted works of the composer.
[By the way, Naxos is luring CD collectors unto their extensive music download site by listing a special URL in this CD’s note booklet which will get you a free download of Griffes’ lovely impressionist The White Peacock. The instructions are in the booklet.]
– John Sunier