Ives: The Unanswered Question; From the Steeples and the Mountains; Three Places in New England

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Ives
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: The Unanswered Question; From the Steeples and the Mountains; Three Places in New England
PERFORMER: Thomas Hampson (baritone): San Francisco Girls Chorus, San Francisco Symphony & Chorus/Michael Tilson Thomas (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 63703 2
Michael Tilson Thomas recorded the Charles Ives symphonies for Sony in the Eighties and Nineties, performances that have been highly regarded as a cycle. This RCA disc of orchestral, vocal and choral items provides a fascinating tangential addendum to those recordings. Derived from concerts at San Francisco’s Davies Hall in 1999 (not that you would guess from the uncharacteristically silent audience), it is a consciously varied programme taking in the whole range of Ives s idiosyncratic output. At its heart is a magnificent performance of Three Places in New England, complete with its optional chorus in “The Housatonic at Stockbridge”. But it is the more unusual items that make this such an indispensable disc, opening with the remarkable From the Steeples and the Mountains, with its bells and brass ringing out in spectacular disarray.

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The vocal items are shared between the excellent San Francisco choirs and the doyen among today’s Ivesian singers, Thomas Hampson. The baritone’s Teldec recital of the composer’s songs is shamefully out of the catalogue, but the selection here offers a representative survey of his skills, from the patter of ‘Memories’ to the lyricism of ‘Serenity’.

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Tilson Thomas similarly conveys everything from the raucous patriotism of the wartime march ‘They are There!’ to the existential spaciousness of The Unanswered Question, a faster but no less searching account thanhis Sony version. The SFS’s playing is outstanding throughout.