on January 18, 2002
Nobody could conduct American music quite like Leonard Bernstein, and it really shows on this fabulous disc devoted to Ives's Second Symphony and a few of his miniature masterpieces. Bernstein, in both the included essay as well has his conducting, shows that he truly understands Ives's music and what makes it absolutely American. Ives is a rather interesting musical figure because he was not a composer by profession, but rather a businessman who wrote music at any free moment he could get. He tinkered with atonality before Schoenberg and new rythmic structures before Stravinsky, yet his music sounds like neither of aforementioned composers. Ives has a very original, unique musical style. One can't help but visualize turn of the century america when listening to Ives. This music always makes me think of the novels of the great Theodore Dreiser. This is a great place to start or add to an Ives discography. This disc includes one of his most listener friendly compositions, Symphony no. 2 along with some very experimental and fascinating miniatures, including the famous Unanswered Question and the visually stimulating Central Park in the Dark. You cannot go wrong with Ives's original music or Bernstein's amazing performances. Plus the music is in crystal clear digital sound. Though the music was recorded live, it has studio sound and performance all the while keeping the emotion and tension found only in live recordings. This is an exceptional intro to Ives and is highly recommended. (hmm...seeing as how it's 3 am, i wonder if this makes any sense to people reading it.)
on May 19, 2004
Ives was an uncommon, refined distillate. Much like Wallace Stevens, another Connecticut Yankee insurance specialist thoroughly out of step with his environment, Ives's structural and thematic advances foretold radical new worlds. Many liner notes to recent Ives releases talk about his work as if it were like most other orchestral offerings--in reality, few touch upon how cataclysmic and inventive his realizations were.
Bernstein, conversely, grasps Ives in totality and advances the cause of this frighteningly bold new music, both in practice and in writing at length about these scores and the Protean imagination that engendered them. Bravo, Lenny.
This is great American music in the truest sense. I was nurtured on movie soundtracks and scores from the likes of Bernard Herrmann, Dimitri Tiomkin, Alex North and others. As we have lost many of these composers and music that they may have left us through the years, I have been methodically looking at American "Twentieth Century" composers from the "classical" arena to fill that void from that great era. I discovered Charles Ives after reading up on Aaron Copland and his foray into many diverse areas of musical composition. One thing leads to another. Ives' Symphony No. 2 seems to have come up very frequently. It certainly doesn't have the melodic quality of Copland yet it does seem to have roots resulting in American musical motifs very strangely orchestrated resulting in some twisted profoundness. What attracts me is how the music almost seems as if it were composed for film. The technical qualities of this recording are marvelous. Leonard Bernstein's intuitive and vibrant interpretation of this music is effectively felt.
on August 3, 2006
In brief, this may be the best single album to jump start the novice on Ives -- and a great ride for the already converted among us. The comprehensive reviews in this thread say it all; I won't repeat. Let me add this, though: the earlier, excellent recording on Columbia (SONY) coupled with the 3rd Symphony, has a cut in the 4th movement, which Lenny opens up in this more recent recording. So, if you have the earlier recording this one is still something of a 'must have.' Buy it for that 'alternate' library of special recordings, like the Tatrai set of Bartok Quartets, Furtwangler's Beethoven Symphonies from the war years, Toscanini's recordings of OTELLO and FALSTAFF -- and Benny Goodman live at Carnegie Hall, 1938.
on May 23, 2013
This is a superb recording. Actually 2 recordings from Avery Fisher Hall, the Symphony from 1987 and the short works from the next year. Bernstein takes a more ruminative view of the symphony than in his classic 1959 recording with an earlier NYPhil aggregation, but not really much slower and no slower than the Schermerhorn/Nashville recording of the critical edition on NAXOS. Because I have known and loved Bernstein's earlier recording so long, I was prepared to reject this. In fact, it is almost as compelling an interpretation and even better played by the orchestra. Both Bernstein recordings take a bit more time than the remarkable MTT/Concergebouw disc--but all 3 provide totally compelling, persuasive views of this great work. The NAXOS disc, for all it's excellent quality is not in the same league for execution or intensity. Just not as much "push" from the podium.
Towards the end of Leonard Bernstein's career he made several distinguished recordings of 20th Century American classical music for Deutsche Grammophon featuring the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. This splendid recording of Ives's 2nd Symphony, several other orchestra works and chamber pieces is yet another remarkable testament to Leonard Bernstein's empathy and understanding of 20th Century American classical music composed by such distinguished composers as Charles Ives, and, of course, Aaron Copland. No other conducter truly understood 20th Century American music as well as Bernstein. Here he leads the New York Philharmonic in one thrilling performance after another, starting with Ives's 2nd Symphony in a swaggering, convincing interpretation. He follows with a hauntingly beautiful "Central Park in the Dark" and ends with an appropriately brooding "The Unanswered Question"; between the symphony and these orchestral works are sandwiched some fine chamber pieces too. Although these were recorded at live performances, the sound quality is that from a studio. Absolutely a necessary CD for admirers of Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein, the New York Philharmonic and anyone interested in 20th Century American classical music.
Often faced with the question from friends who are just beginning a classical music collection and want to try the 'American school' - the question being which of the many Ives recordings is a solid groundwork for understanding and appreciating Ives' importance - this is the recording I recommend. Despite the now gratefully multiple recordings of all of the works on this CD (especially the Symphony No. 2), this collection surveys Charles Ives well.
Leonard Bernstein was a champion for Ives performances both in this country and abroad. This recording shows why. His approach to Ives' work is not only diligent in his preparation of the orchestra, but it also programs a spectrum that allows each of the works to enhance the others. Here the Symphony No. 2 begins the survey, finding within the work the humor and nostalgia that abounds. And as if to recapitulate Ives' thoughts, Bernstein follows with the quirky 'The Gong on the Hook & Ladder or Firemen's Parade on Main Street', the 'Tone Roads No. 1, for chamber orchestra', a perfectly infectious 'A Set of 3 Short Pieces, for string quartet, double bass & piano',
Hallowe'en, for string quartet, piano & optional drum, the luminous 'Central Park in the Dark', and of course ends with the now American iconic 'The Unanswered Question (I & II).'
This recording may be dated in sound, but the performances remain definitive. And as for a fine introduction to both the well-known side of Ives as well as the slightly esoteric aspect of the genius' music, this well curated selection fits the bill. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, March 06
on January 28, 2002
Bernstein and the NY phil premiered this long after it was written, in 1951. Ives was given a healthy award for this piece, but retorted with some like this: "prizes are for boys" though Ives was a little callous on that matter, to say the least, bernstein was the first conductor ever to seriously take the trouble to program his music on regular subscription concerts...thank goodness.
Bernstein's conducting to me has always seemed self-indulgent, but his grasp on american music, esp. ives, and a more popular composer, copland, is amazing. Bernstein makes this piece sing, dance, scream, and it will make you laugh at the ridiculously high number of quotes from old american songs, most notably, "hail columbia, gem of the ocean." The last chord of this piece, like another reviewer mentioned, never fails to crack me up.
The other pieces on this disc are other comical as well. "fireman's parade on main street" accurately captures a moving parade moving by, with car-horn sounding clarinets esp. poking through...central park in the dark and the unanswered question are splendidly played here.
All in all, essential to anyone interested in charles ives, and american music in general...leonard bernstein is another reason to buy this CD. It also has leonard bernstein's own notes on ives and the second symphony...very informative, proof that bernstein knew this piece inside and out more so than anyone else ever will.
on August 25, 2001
If you're curious about Ives, this is about the best introduction to his music imaginable. The second symphony is completely tonal and a absolutely hilarious (I still laugh every time I hear the ending.) This is a must hear! The other pieces are more difficult on the ear to different extents, but they're short enough that they come across as fascinating rather than bothersome. I particularly liked "Central Park in the Dark" and "The Unanswered Question".
on December 19, 2001
Absolutely a fine place to begin with Charles Ives. For the longest time, I couldn't listen to this stuff - just too weird. Now that I've jumped in, I want to hear more. The last chord of the 2nd symphony is hysterical.