LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (The Camp Meeting); Three Places in New England; Central Park in the Dark; The Unanswered Question
PERFORMER: Saint Louis SO/Leonard Slatkin
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61222-2 DDD
Charles Ives was a pioneering salesman of life insurance, who believed in educating his clients so that they would know, rather than have to be told, the cover they needed. But as a composer his innovative use of polyrhythms, atonality and other advanced techniques won him only posthumous glory as a precursor of the 20th-century American tradition.
His work is thoroughly individual and has a maverick quality that defies classification. It was doubtless this that inspired Mahler to take the score of the Third Symphony back to Vienna and rehearse it shortly before his death in 1911 – had Mahler lived, Ives might have enjoyed recognition in his own lifetime.
This collection has been thoughtfully assembled and makes diverting listening. Leonard Slatkin’s approach is relaxed and comfortable. Ives’s music is unsensational and somewhat introverted – here it is given ample room to breathe. Central Park in the Dark and The Unanswered Question are justifiably famous and richly evocative, even without the programmatic descriptions supplied by Ives – which leave the imagination little scope for manoeuvre. Clearly he believed his audiences should be as well informed as his insurance clients.
Anarchists can go straight to ‘Putnam’s Camp’, the second of Three Places in New England, for the notorious clash of two different marches in different tempi and different keys, but the closing moments of the Third Symphony are the more remarkable for the ‘distant church bells’ that are truly distant and almost inaudible. It is for dynamics such as these that digital sound was invented. Christopher Lambton