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Penguin Guide, January 2009

There have been tauter, more warmly expressive versions of the major work in this enterprising collection, Ives’s Symphony 3. However, James Sinclair is a long-established Ives specialist, who has edited a number of the master’s works, and in the rest of the disc he secures more concentrated playing, notably in the hushed writing of the two Contemplations, The Unanswered Question and Central Park in the Dark. The high contrasts and extrovert humour of Washington’s Birthday, the Country Band March and the Overture and March (1776) are well caught, too, helped by full, colourful recording.

David Hurwitz, June 2003

"James Sinclair is the world's foremost authority on the music of Charles Ives, but that doesn't guarantee success as an interpreter of the music. Fortunately, his musicianship evidently partakes of the same sympathy and thorough preparation as does his scholarship. These performances go straight to the top of the heap, imbuing Ives' quirky inspirations with a sense of inevitability and "rightness" rarely achieved in this repertoire. Interestingly, Sinclair doesn't manage this by minimizing the music's weirdness. Indeed, in the Third Symphony attentive listeners will notice the selective inclusion of some of those controversial dissonant "shadow lines" that add a touch of harmonic spice to the work's largely plain-spun hymn tunes.

The secret to Sinclair's success here lies largely in the remarkable transparency of texture he achieves, combined with propulsive tempos. The first movement of the Third Symphony, for example, flows with swift purposefulness before relaxing beautifully into the concluding flute solo. The Unanswered Question, at four and a half minutes, remains one of the swiftest ever. Some performances of this tiny masterpiece last more than six minutes, but Sinclair justifies his decision in the true "call and response" interaction between questioning trumpet and answering winds that this performance delineates with such persuasive clarity. He also brings a delicious rhythmic lift to the "barn dance" episode in Washington's Birthday.

Both the "Country Band" March and the Overture and March "1776" will be familiar from their appearance in the central movement of Three Places in New England, and in Sinclair's hands both pieces (particularly the former) display all of their humorous high spirits. Throughout the program, the Northern Sinfonia plays with impressive security and discipline, and Naxos' sonics capture the entire program with ideal balances and striking impact. In short, every aspect of this project has been realized about as well as it can be, and no admirer of Ives will want to miss out on the chance to hear it.

Peter Dickinson
Gramophone, April 2003

"James Sinclair has been a dedicated Ives scholar and performer for more than 30 years, which means this CD has to be something special... Vintage Ives, all played with completely idiomatic feeling."

Robert Levine

"This is a fine selection of Ives's works. The Third Symphony has wonderful folk sounds and hymns to latch on to, while the raucous "Country Band" is a warm-yet-all-too-true invocation of the mediocre town bands that play badly but with great oomph. "Central Park in the Dark" is alternatingly spooky and impressionistic, the latter as sounds from outside the Park creep in. "Washington's Birthday" is the CD's most dissonant piece--hardly fun--in the middle of which Ives gives us some square-dance rhythms and the sound of a Jew's harp. "The Unanswered Question" is justly famous, a conglomeration of sounds and instrumental groups, which, in its four and a half minutes, says a great deal. These performances are all excellent, and for those who want a sort of Ives sampler, this bargain CD is ideal."


"You'll definitely be rewarded with a spirited rendition of Ives's Symphony No. 3, and haunting performances of The Unanswered Question and Central Park in the Dark. Besides first-rate recording quality and artistic interpretations, you'll revel in satisfaction knowing that you saved yourself a few bucks to boot."

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