Monday, November 16, 2009

Commemorating Thanksgiving With Charles Ives

No one but Charles Ives could be Charles Ives. HE created incredibly idiosyncratic collages of marching bands, pop tunes of the day and hymns, rustic largos of great beauty, and tremendous cacophonies of orchestral sounds, all patched together in his barn as studies in striking contrast. His was a boldly advanced music that now is considered unmistakeably a high point of early 20th-century American culture.

I read an amusing sci-fi novel of time travel many years ago. I think it was called Hot House Flowers. I forget the name of the author. In it a visitor from the future travels to turn-of-the-(last)-century America and mentions the music of Charles Ives to those he meets, thinking that everyone would know the name of what had become in the future America's greatest composer. Of course no one has ever heard of him. One hundred years later we may not be doing much better in so far as the general public is concerned. Yet his music continues to speak to those who listen to it with open ears.

Right in time for the holidays Naxos has released a very appealing volume of his music, with James Sinclair conducting the Malmo Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus. It is a nicely paced program of vintage Ives, including some previously unrecorded orchestral arrangements of Ives' "The General Slocum" and "Overture in G Major" along with some other rather underplayed miniatures. But it is the last three movements of his "New England Holidays Symphony" that form the backbone of the program. Movement Four, "Thanksgiving and Forefathers' Day" comes at a particularly opportune time, and could form a part of your holiday listening if you have a family that is open to substantial and advanced fare along with their cranberry sauce.

Sinclair's renditions are some of the best on record. He lets the idiomatic quotations shine forth with gusto and a certain Victorian naivety, his largo passages are both mystical and pastoral, and the cacophonous huzzahs of anarchic sound clashes are breathtakingly vital.

This is Ives interpretation at its best!

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