WORKS: The Unanswered Question; Central Park in the Dark; Holidays
PERFORMER: New York PO/Leonard Bernstein
CATALOGUE NO: SMK 60203 ADD Reissue (1966-70)
It was Bernstein who introduced the Ives Second, amazingly, in 1951; the young conductor then premiered Ives’s Symphony No. 1 in 1953 and No. 4 in 1965. All were worth the wait. And if the modest Ives revival has yielded other very fine recordings of the symphonies – from Michael Tilson Thomas and the Concertgebouw at their most surprising, from the sterling Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, from the inimitable Bernstein himself late in his own career – the New York Philharmonic captured with Bernstein in these recordings dating from 1958 to 1966 is in a class of its own. What a ball Lenny and his players have with the music! Everyone is at his or her spontaneous best, and while the rough edges show in ways they would not in the late Seventies or Eighties the whole affair still carries the exhilaration of discovery.
There is method in all the rambunctiousness, too: Bernstein’s sublime control in the Adagio cantabile central movement of the Symphony No. 2 is all the more extraordinary in the naturalness of the results. Only the Holidays symphony, recorded on different occasions before its disparate movements were called a unified work, betrays the absence of the conductor’s breathtakingly organic approach. Yet the opening holiday, ‘Washington’s Birthday’, emerges with so much joy that only a prig would complain of the lack of relation to the final ‘Thanksgiving Day’. These are key recordings in understanding both Ives and Bernstein. They are also immensely enjoyable. Octavio Roca