Ives/Ruggles/Seeger

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COMPOSERS: Ives/Ruggles/Seeger
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Three Places in New England; Orchestral Set No. 2
PERFORMER: Cleveland Orchestra & Chorus/Christoph von Dohnányi
CATALOGUE NO: 443 776-2 DDD
Throughout his period as Cleveland’s music director Dohnányi has been at pains to conduct American composers as well as the works of the central European tradition that are his mainstay, and this collection of early US masterpieces shows how potent a force he can be in such repertoire, especially with such an accomplished and forthright orchestra.

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The Ives works are the most familiar here, both in superbly delineated and controlled performances, and the Crawford the most unexpected: the Andante for strings is a transcription from her famous String Quartet of 1931, and a chance to sample the whole work’s astonishing radicalism and sheer originality; it’s no substitute for a brand new recording of the original quartet, though, which is badly needed.

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Most fascinating of all are the two pieces by Carl Ruggles. Dohnányi’s version of Sun-treader is the best so far on disc, a musical machine of uncompromising dissonance and dogged counterpoint that never loses its remorseless momentum for an instant. Men and Mountains was the starting point for Sun-treader. It is the lesser work, yet still full of those moments of unique vision that make Ruggles’s tiny output so significant in the development of American music. Andrew Clements