Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Ives, the American original

As I am pre-posting this on Tuesday morning, I don't know yet whether Obama or Romney won the presidential race. In either case, it seems appropriate to post Charles Ives today, the composer who has been dubbed the American original. Ives (1874-1954) was overlooked for most of his life, but is now recognized as a key figure in the history of classical music. His works are not easy to get into, but very interesting in their collage style. This Naxos CD makes a great introduction, as it contains some of his most important works in excellent performances. The third symphony (The Camp Meeting) from 1910 is probably the best of his efforts in that genre, with its intriguing mix of conventional romanticism, songs, and dances. It evokes country meetings during his childhood, when people gathered in fields to sing, preach, and listen. Central Park in the dark from 1909 is a tone poem unlike any other I have heard, aptly described as "alternatingly spooky and impressionistic". The unanswered question from 1906 is another key work in Ives' repertoire, a study in contrasts that packs quite a punch in four minutes. The other works on the CD are less essential but still good to have. Outstanding performances by the Northern Sinfonia under James Sinclair. If your collection warrants just one Ives CD, this would make a good choice. Alternatively, it would be a great stepping stone to explore this strange but rewarding composer further.