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Ives: Symphonies Nos 1-4

Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel, et al (DG)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Symphonies Nos 1-4
Los Angeles Master Chorale/Marta Gardolińska; Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel
DG 483 9505 (Digital Only)   123:50 mins (2 discs)

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Two years ago, Gustavo Dudamel flew the world conducting the lustrous and velvet Vienna Philharmonic in Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 2. Judging from the gorgeous warmth and finesse shown in this complete symphony set with the LA Philharmonic, taken from acclaimed live concerts in February, you might well think ‘the Dude’ is still conducting the Viennese. But an American identity asserts itself the moment his musicians, with bouncy and knife-sharp rhythms, eat up the raucous Americana in Ives’s idiosyncratic musical compost from the 20th century’s dawn: the tootling piccolos, marching bands, the ragtime fragments jostling with hymns. In all my decades of listening to Ives I don’t think I’ve ever heard the Old World mesh with the New in ways so thrilling and uplifting.

There are two chief reasons for Dudamel’s success as an Ives conductor with the LA Phil. One is their joint command of complex detail, conveyed in textures that seem to illuminate every thread in the music’s crazy patchwork (craziest of all in the overwhelming Fourth). The other is boundless enthusiasm and affection for whatever Ives puts forth, from the Old World Romanticism dominating the First through lovingly rendered fugal exercises to the Fourth’s cosmic perspective on the spinning world, vocally garnished in its outer movements by the supple-voiced Los Angeles Master Chorale. No audience intrusions spoil the spell of these recordings from LA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. Deutsche Grammophon’s decision to release this only in digital form at present is a pity as it certainly deserves a physical pressing.

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Geoff Brown