Ives: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 4; Central Park in the Dark; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; General William Booth enters into Heaven

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 4; Central Park in the Dark; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; General William Booth enters into Heaven
PERFORMER: Dallas Symphony Orchestra/
Andrew Litton
Ives’ four symphonies make a strange


and fascinating set. Heard back-toback,

as Hyperion presents them,

the First and Fourth symphonies

seem galaxies apart. The First

(1900), composed while Ives was

studying with Horatio Parker at Yale

University, is an affectionate (and also occasionally irreverent) homage

to the great symphonic essays of

Brahms, Dvo?ák and Tchaikovsky.

The Fourth (1912-25), by contrast,

traces a vast and difficult spiritual

journey through music of astonishing

rhythmic complexity, textural variety

and dramatic freshness.

Put the central two symphonies

in the picture, however, and a path

can be discerned. The Second (1902)

fills a similar Romantic mould to

its predecessor, though its themes

are drawn from American folk and

popular traditions. The considerably

more slender Third (1904) builds

upon the Second’s homespun

qualities, yet Ives’ own voice is

already so much clearer – and, as

in the Fourth, its effect is at once

nostalgic and exploratory.

Andrew Litton’s survey of

Ives’ symphonies improves as it

goes along. In both the First and

Second, the Dallas musicians fail

to match the rhythmic vitality of

their counterparts in Chicago and

Amsterdam under Tilson Thomas.

Litton overloads the climaxes of the

First, too, throwing the symphony’s

already awkward structure further

off balance; he seems more at home

in the Second’s roomier structure.

Recorded balance is also problematic

in both of these works, burying

important woodwind detail under a

plush pile of strings.Litton hits his stride in the

Third – an evocatively Romantic,

overwhelmingly lyrical, and

dangerously expansive interpretation.

The result is ravishing, and here

Hyperion’s engineers have got

it absolutely right, giving the

score’s ‘shadow lines’ (dissonant

yet complementary parts meant

to hover in the background) their

proper distance. His Fourth is better

still. How ravishing the divided

strings sound at the opening of the

treacherous ‘Comedy’ movement,

their layered quarter-tones creating

a glistening sonic web. And in

the main body of the movement,

as the music gains in density and

momentum, Litton manoeuvres so

deftly through the sudden shifts in

tempo and character that the result

is unexpectedly dreamlike – a truly

haunting effect.

Tilson Thomas’ cycle fotr Sony

will likely prove more consistently

satisfying, though Litton’s individual

and compelling interpretations of

the Third and especially the Fourth

symphonies are well-worth hearing.


Andrew Farach-Colton