Ives: Symphony No. 3 (The Camp Meeting); Washington’s Birthday; The Unanswered Question; Central Park in the Dark; Country Band March; Overture and March 1776

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Ives
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (The Camp Meeting); Washington’s Birthday; The Unanswered Question; Central Park in the Dark; Country Band March; Overture and March 1776
PERFORMER: Northern Sinfonia/James Sinclair
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559087
Charles Ives’s Third Symphony is a modest, lovable piece, a sequence of three hymn-tune preludes evoking an old-time New England gospel meeting. James Sinclair, a leading Ives expert, directs it with obvious affection and authority. Of the discordant ‘shadow lines’ which Ives wrote in various passages, crossed out, then later wanted reinstated, he includes some but not others: hardly a scholarly approach, but the selection is an effective one. Equally pragmatically, in the brooding The Unanswered Question he replaces Ives’s preferred flute quartet by pairs of flutes and clarinets; and he enhances the atmospheric Central Park in the Dark by including an out-of-tune upright piano. The programme is completed by ‘Washington’s Birthday’, the most lightly scored component of the Holidays Symphony, complete with twanging Jew’s harp in the increasingly chaotic middle section; and by two parodistic marches later pillaged for the ‘Putnam’s Camp’ movement of Three Places in New England. Throughout, the Northern Sinfonia players find their way confidently through Ives’s notational complexities, though the wind section sounds too distant in the church acoustic.

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The DG recording of the Third Symphony by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is better balanced, and the players seem to make the music more their own, touching in the ‘shadow lines’ with ultra-fine sensitivity. Their disc also includes superb accounts of The Unanswered Question, with four flutes, and the chamber-orchestra Three Places. But, for a fiver, why not buy the Naxos as well, if only to compare the original versions of the two marches with their final incarnations? Anthony Burton