Album Review

Charles Ives “Holidays Symphony/Unsanswered Question (rev.)/Central Park in the Dark/Unanswered Question (orig.)” [Sony Classical]

cujo   9/23/2005   A Library, CD

Washington’s Birthday (10:27): A wintry soundscape is difficult to break open. A vast simultaneous pop tune medley led by a jew’s harp livens the mood for a few minutes, until the cold sets in again. A solo violin tries to interrupt and keep the mood up, but ultimately fails.
Decoration Day (9:57): What we would call Memorial Day. Quiet contemplation leads off the piece. The Dies irae is hinted at here and there. A trumpet plays Taps over tremolo strings, and then a brilliant march erupts as you head back into town. When asked to name a masterpiece, Stravinsky named this piece.
The Fourth of July(6:04): Begins with a warped take on the Marseilles (the French national anthem!) Finishes with orchestral fireworks.
Thanksgiving and Forefathers? Day (14:57): A calm giving of thanks gives way to a huge celebration around the dinner table. Strings and celesta then lead a phenomenal austere and pastoral interlude. Catharsis is reached when the chorus enters singing Duke Street – an incredible moment.
The Unanswered Question (revised version) (7:13): over a slowly shifting bed of strictly diatonic strings, a trumpet asks a 5-note question, and a woodwind quartet answers. Repeat 5 times, woodwinds getting more and more atonal and crazed. Existential burning consumes you.
Central Park in the Dark (7:26): You’re sitting in the park around 1900. It’s pretty quiet. As you begin to listen to your surroundings, all sorts of distant sounds and music become apparent. Before you know it, there’s music everywhere, and someone’s singing ‘Hello, my darling!? Then you come to your senses and it’s quiet again.
The Unanswered Question (original version) (7:01): see above, but slightly more complex. I prefer the revised, but only because I heard it first…

For fans of chaos, puritanism, yankee doodling, American music, bombast, rhythmic complexity, and for those unfamiliar with Ives. He is America’s greatest composer yet. This CD is quite possibly the desert island Ives CD.

If you really enjoy the music on the disk, you should also check out Ives’ similar works “Three Places in New England” and his “2nd Orchestral Set – From Hanover Square North The Voice of the People Again Rose…” (or something like that).

‘Cujo, Sept. 2005

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