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Naxos Records Ives Complete Orchestral Sets with James Sinclair Conducting the Malmo Symphony Orchestra

The Music 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 Symphony).

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 climax).

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 hear it.

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 minutes.


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