Varese/Ives

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COMPOSERS: Varese/Ives
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Amériques; Symphony No. 4; The Unanswered Question
PERFORMER: Cleveland Orchestra & Chorus/ Christoph von Dohnányi, Jahja Ling
CATALOGUE NO: 443 172-2 DDD
Although composed over 70 years ago, Edgard Varèse’s large-scale orchestral work Amériques still has the capacity to astonish the listener who is well versed in the most recent contemporary music. A daring portrayal of ‘new worlds on earth, in the sky, or in the minds of men’, it explores a whole gamut of striking sonorities, in particular the mesmeric tones of the siren. Dohnányi and the Cleveland Orchestra deliver a performance of tremendous physical impact, although a more expansive account from Boulez and the New York Philharmonic on Sony offers greater subtlety in terms of orchestral refinement.

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There’s a similar feeling of breaking new ground in the collage-like techniques that dominate the second and fourth movements of Ives’s Fourth Symphony. This pioneering work, completed way back in 1916, had to wait until the mid-Sixties to receive its first public performance. Yet even now its fearsome technical demands, which include the necessary introduction of a second conductor in the Allegretto, make it a comparative rarity in the concert hall. Not surprisingly Dohnányi and his virtuoso orchestra, aided by some spectacular engineering, prove fully worthy of the task, bringing structural logic to music that has often seemed rather speculative in design and outlook. Erik Levi