Naxos Records Ives Complete Orchestral Sets with James Sinclair
Conducting the Malmo Symphony Orchestra
After finishing his Third Symphony, Ives felt that the term "symphony"
carried too much of a connotation for a formal norm. He turned to
calling his next orchestral compositions "orchestral sets". In his later
writings he makes it clear that he thought equally of his four numbered
symphonies and his three orchestral sets as symphonies; thus, Ives wrote
nine symphonies (including his unnumbered Holidays Symphony and Universe
This recording brings together for the first time all three orchestral
sets. It features the premiere of a three-movement version of Ives's
incomplete Third Orchestral Set. The recording also features the
premiere recording of "Version 1" of Ives's popular First Orchestral
Set: Three Places in New England. (Versions 2-4 have been recorded
often.) Ives left us full orchestral scores of the first and last
movements of this earlier version of the set, but the second movement's
ink score survives only in fragments. Sinclair used Ives's score-sketch
(with its generous indications of orchestration) to complete a
performable second movement in this early condition of the musical text.
For the Third Orchestral Set, we have only Ives's completed score of the
first movement. For a performable second movement, Ives scholar David
Porter used Ives's sketches to complete a realization. The last movement
was likewise realized by Nors Josephson.
The Third Orchestral Set emerges as a masterpiece, the last movement's
realization revealing a poignant, sound-sensitive work.
The Recording Sessions
The recording sessions in Malmo, Sweden (the city directly across the
channel from Copenhagen) with the Malmo Sym. Orch. were simply fabulous.
The MSO (perhaps typical of Swedish orchestras) has a great work ethic
and very collegial attitude (and sense of humor to go with it!). They
were thrilled to record Ives. I think the resulting CD will be
spectacular. Naxos hasn't decided when they will get this one in print.
The material was the three orchestral sets (complete!): O.Set 1 in my
edition of Version 1 (the mid teens full orchestra score of mvts. 1 & 3
and my reconstruction of mvt. 2 from the surviving fragments of the full
score and otherwise from the score-sketch); O.Set 2 using the new
performance materials; O.Set 3 using David Porter's edition of mvt. 1,
his realization of mvt. 2, and Nors Josephson's realization of mvt. 3.
I think the hit of the trio will be the 2nd O. Set which hasn't received
a really great recording (remarkably, the closest to satisfactory is
Morton Gould's 1967 go which was recorded with the Chicago Sym. Orch.
along with a pretty good reading of "Robert Browning Overture", a few
days after premiering the 2nd O.Set on an undoubtedly rehearsal-cramped
"Popular Concert"! -- Gould deserves some kind of posthumous award for
doing a brave championing of Ives.). The atmosphere in the first mvt. is
fantastic when you use Ives's plan for distancing and insist on "ppp"
string playing. Stephen Foster, George Ives et al. would be proud. The
great rag mvt. cooks a bit more here and the finale is paced using
Ives's tempos (I hope that conveys a greater growth of passion into the
Now there will be available all four versions of Three Places. Version 1
demonstrates that, even when being self-consciously conservative (for
hopes of approval by Damrosch et al.), Ives's inspiration shines
through. One doesn't need all the sometimes brilliant editing and
improvements of 1929 to appreciate Ives's empathy for the black soul,
his love of the spirit of amateur musicians, or his connection with
nature (God) and love for Harmony.
Perhaps this recording of all three mvts. of the 3rd O.Set will
demystify the work. The first mvt. turns out to be a more charming
meditation on the several hymns (no deadly tempos this time). The 2nd
mvt. is fun. Porter follows Ives's plan and every wish. Tunes pile up
(perhaps each strung out more completely than Ives would have) above
some ostinato patterns; we get two versions of the Columbia, the Gem of
the Ocean trio (like those in 1776 and The Fourth of July). The 3rd
mvt., in Josephson's realization, is a haunting sound space; it has won
me over as great music. I think it would bring Ives to tears if he could
God bless Ives and these wonderful Swedes! And special thanks to David
Porter for coming up with the latter mvts. of O.Set 3 when Naxos said I
had to find a way to get the Orchestral Sets CD duration up over 60