Ives: A Portrait of Charles Ives

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COMPOSERS: Ives
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: A Portrait of Charles Ives
PERFORMER: Henry Herford (baritone)Ensemble Modern/Ingo Metzmacher
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54552 2 DDD
The portmanteau title misleads: A Portrait of Charles Ives is anything but a cosy ‘greatest hits’ introduction to the music of one of the 20th century’s vital innovators. Instead, Metzmacher and the Ensemble Modern have brought together a challenging collection of some of the most extraordinary of Ives’s miniatures, which are too rarely heard simply because they defy neat pigeonholing into the orchestral, chamber or instrumental repertories. Ives himself parcelled up many of these pieces into sets, hoping they might get performances from theatre orchestras. Though the instrumentation varies, the sound is always bright and pungent, the textures limpid, and the music constantly worries away at the boundaries of what was considered safe and acceptable.

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The Cologne-based Ensemble Modern has established itself over the last decade as Europe’s leading contemporary music band, and every track here demonstrates the exceptional vividness and accuracy of its playing. The sequence is punctuated with five songs, including the magnificent ‘General W Booth enters into Heaven’. Henry Herford captures each idiom exactly, blurring all distinctions between art and popular song, just as Ives intended. Andrew Clements