COMPOSERS: Charles Ives
ALBUM TITLE: Ives
WORKS: A Symphony: New England Holidays; Central Park in the Dark; Orchestral Set No. 1: Three Places in New England; The Unanswered Question
PERFORMER: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis
CATALOGUE NO: Chandos CHSA 5163 (hybrid CD/SACD)
The second volume of Sir Andrew Davis’s Ives series centres on memories and evocations of the composer’s native region: in the four pieces which make up the engaging if asymmetrical New England Holidays Symphony; and in the three movements of the perfectly formed triptych Three Places in New England. The exceptions are the Two Contemplations for small orchestras: Central Park in the Dark a New York scene, The Unanswered Question originally called ‘a Cosmic Landscape’.
The complexity and density of the climaxes of the Holidays pieces and of ‘Putnam’s Camp’ in Three Places set interpreters formidable problems of balance and co-ordination. It’s clear, not only from his performances but also from his note in the booklet, that Davis has thought long and hard about these – for example, finding a way of bringing the three competing tempos in ‘The Fourth of July’ under the control of a single conductor’s beat rather than relying on assistants – and his Melbourne orchestra responds with confidence and precision. But the use of a large string section, although it allows wonderfully delicate and tender quiet playing in the many dream-like episodes, obscures some wind details. And detail is also lost, on all but SACD or the best stereo systems, in the open sound balance – except in The Unanswered Question, when the four flutes searching for an answer to the trumpet’s repeated questions are startlingly huddled in the foreground. The sound, though, doesn’t obscure these fine performances of fascinating and often thrilling music.