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John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, September 2010

With the big exceptions of “The Unanswered Question” and “Central Park in the Dark,” some of the music by Charles Ives (1874–1954) can be more than a bit clamorous and dissonant, turning off a few listeners. But it seems to me that it would be hard for anyone not to like this collection of Ives’s early band music, superbly rendered in modern concert-band arrangements by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band.

The booklet note tells us that Ives grew up like his elder contemporary, John Philip Sousa, enjoying and later composing band music, and the works of Ives on this disc, from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, show us the influence it had on the young man.

Most of the pieces, which range from marches (“Country Band March”) to waltzes (“Waltz”) to fictitious college anthems (“Omega Lambda Chi”) to legitimate college tunes (“A Son of a Gambolier”) to miniature tone poems (“Runaway Horse on Main Street”) to full-blown suites (“Old Home Days”), are absolutely charming, touching, and moving by turns, only occasionally erupting into the cacophonous discord we sometimes associate with the composer. Of course, whereas Sousa remained devoted to band music all his life and seldom strayed too far from the martial style, Ives soon developed a taste for wider interests, as his symphonies, songs, and chamber music attest. Still, Ives remained, as did Sousa, dedicated to pure Americana, and one can hear in this band music the many nationalistic themes to come.

The audio, which Naxos recorded in 2003, is pleasantly smooth for a band recording, with plenty of depth and bloom, though not a lot of air around the instruments. The miking sounds moderately distanced, yet the sonics still carry a nice impact, and, most of all, everything is highly listenable.

Adapted from a review the author originally published in the $ensible Sound magazine.

Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, August 2008

Many of these twenty-one, mainly short selections are excerpts from other Ives' compositions such as Three Places in New England and his symphony Four New England Holidays. There is tremendous variety in all these selections and they should simply be considered fun listening and should be widely appreciated by lovers of brass and wind instruments. London Bridge is Fallen Down! is a great take off on that old familiar tune. The title selection Variations on America is probably of greatest interest here with almost every sort of variation imaginable and entertaining in the extreme, trying to figure exactly how Ives altered the original tones and rhythms. A fun recording not to be taken too seriously or too often and excellently recorded.

Philip Clark
Gramophone, April 2008

Charles Ives transcriptions played by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band heard on “Variations on America” is one of those quirky projects that Naxos’s American Classics imprint has a habit of dealing up. The programme includes a beautiful arrangement of the “The Alcotts” movement from the Concord Sonata and a devilishly astute reworking of Decoration Day. Variations on “America” is a classic and this transcription fascinatingly relocates it within the tradition of Sousa. They Are There!, a war-song famously recorded by Ives himself, is dispatched with an appropriate dollop of Pythonesque mischief. © 2008 Gramophone

BandWorld, January 2008

A Charles Ives for band disc has been long overdue and this reissue from the U.S. Marine Band is a welcome addition to the Naxos Wind Band Classics series. While the title work needs little introduction to most, some of the marches and Old Home Days (arr. Elkus) have also been frequently appearing on band programs. It is most reassuring that some of the “forgotten” Ives windstrations are represented on this fine recording; one work in particular is A Son of a Gambolier (arr. Elkus), published in the early 1960’s yet rarely programmed. With the release of Variations on “America”, it is the hope many of these neglected gems (as well as the “established” pieces) will continue to find a home in the repertoire of bands & wind ensembles. A nice bit of America you’ll certainly enjoy.

Joseph Stevenson, November 2007

Music by Charles Ives arranged for band! That's an idea so good that you just know it will work. The American wind band was part of Ives' native musical world, and its accent pervades his musical language. So what would sound more natural than a full program (74 minutes) of 21 Ives pieces arranged for the modern version of the American wind (or "military") band? Happily, all expectations are not only met but exceeded by this Naxos release. Most of the arrangements are by either by Jonathan Elkus (Director of Bands, Emeritus at U.C., Davis) or James B. Sinclair (respected Ives scholar). Elkus himself believes that the role of an arrangement of another's music is to "fulfill or exceed on its own terms the musical values of its source." In fact, all of the arrangers here are better orchestrators than Ives, so many of the later, more complex works emerge with unexpected clarity.

The President's Own United States Marine Band may have been the first "name" ensemble outside Connecticut to play Ives' music, since Ives' March Intercollegiate (included on this disc) probably was on its program at the first William McKinley Inaugural ceremony in 1897. I can do little more than confirm what you would expect: The playing exemplifies the best in professional band musicianship. The leadership by Col. Timothy W. Foley is absolutely right for all of this music. The notes credit an all-Marine production and engineering crew, so (no surprise) the sound is "Always Faithful".

The program is intelligently chosen to illuminate particular aspects of Ives' musical personality. Especially valuable are the earlier marches, songs, and dances. These give a sense of getting to know the scrappy, athletic teen- and college-aged Ives rather than the frail graybeard usually pictured. But coming at just the right moments, in what otherwise is a stream of short pieces, are exquisite transcriptions of the Variations on "America", Fugue in C, Decoration Day, and The Alcotts. Also worth mentioning are the liner notes. Written by Elkis, they are full, detailed, scholarly, and informative, something rarely achieved these days by the major labels. Wonderful!

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2007

You are not about to make some earth shattering discovery of long lost works by Charles Ives, the contents of the disc being arrangements of his music for modern American concert bands. 'Transcribed by William E Rhoads from William Schuman's orchestration of E.Power Biggs edition of Ives's variations for organ' is just one example of how far we have here travelled from an Ives original. But don't let me put a dampener on the disc for having borrowed bits and pieces from such symphonic works as Four New England Holidays and Three Places in New England, and then tinkered by the linking of different works, we arrive at an enjoyable band concert that has more than a whiff of Ives about it. The Marine band are an excellent outfit who know how to swagger through marches and to put over light music with charm. A quite dry acoustic finds no weaknesses, but I am  sure many will wish a bit of phoney reverb had been added to give the open air sound they link with marching bands.

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, September 2007

"As so often with Ives he ends ‘The Alcotts’ on an ambiguous note, which is probably a good metaphor for this disc as a whole. There is no doubt this band passes muster – the playing is very polished – but somehow it’s all too sedate and controlled. Perhaps one needs a more unruly beast between the shafts and a driver willing to loosen the reins a little more. What a wild ride that would be!"

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