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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charlie done right
Following hard on the heels of Schermerhorn's Nashville Symphony Orchestra recording (also on Naxos) of some essential music of Howard Hanson is this new release of Ives' Symphony No. 2, coupled with his Robert Browning Overture. Schermerhorn and his Nashville group show signs of being fitting successors to Hanson himself, as well as Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson...
Published on September 30, 2000 by Bob Zeidler

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but could be better
Charles Ives' Symphony No. 2 is my favorite symphony, period. I have every recording of it that I am aware of and I even have the sheet music for study (although not the new critical edition of the score). Schermerhorn's new performance is certainly well done, in an understated manner, but lacks a bit in power and bite. At times I sence the Nashville Symphony Orchestra...
Published on September 6, 2001


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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charlie done right, September 30, 2000
By 
Bob Zeidler (Charlton, MA United States) - See all my reviews
Following hard on the heels of Schermerhorn's Nashville Symphony Orchestra recording (also on Naxos) of some essential music of Howard Hanson is this new release of Ives' Symphony No. 2, coupled with his Robert Browning Overture. Schermerhorn and his Nashville group show signs of being fitting successors to Hanson himself, as well as Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas, Leonard Slatkin and Gerhard Schwarz, for definitive recorded performances of core-repertory American music.

With the release of this album, earlier recordings of Ives' 2nd Symphony are, for all intents and purposes, pass , and, in key passages in the work, wrong. This new critical edition, prepared by Jonathan Elkus of the Charles Ives Society, corrects nearly 1,000 long-standing manuscript errors that have been repeated in recordings (and performances) dating back at least as early as Bernstein's late-'50's New York Philharmonic Orchestra recording on Columbia. Many of the corrections are quite minor, and may pass unnoticed by most listeners. But anyone familiar with this work will recognize the major corrections, including one to the concluding "raspberry" that thumbs its nose at the music establishment in which Ives served as both member and iconoclast. To say more here is to deprive you of the enjoyment of your own first hearing of this performance, which Schermerhorn has recently "taken on the road" with his orchestra, receiving rave reviews recently for a performance at Carnegie Hall.

The discmate, Ives' "Robert Browning Overture," is altogether more challenging for both musician and listener, coming, as it does, from a later period in Ives' compositional life when his music seemed to focus on more cosmic themes. It has seldom been recorded, and here receives a performance that is every bit as definitive as the one of the 2nd Symphony. The Nashville Symphony Orchestra handles this difficult work with aplomb, as might well have been predicted if one thinks of Nashville as being one of the three domestic centers of the universe (along with New York and Los Angeles) for the ready availability of superb studio musicians.

At a time when the major labels are in a state of disarray and retrenchment for failing to anticipate changing public tastes in music (not necessarily for the better), Naxos keeps raising the bar, releasing albums of significant, and well-performed and -recorded, music almost before you can ask "What's next?" And Naxos has provided some of the best Ives liner notes available anywhere: Nicely researched and very well written, they are a model of musicological clarity and historical accuracy.

Recommended completely without reservation. At any price.

Bob Zeidler
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stand up and use your Ears like a Man!, November 18, 2000
By 
Thomas F. Bertonneau (Oswego, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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Interest in Charles Ives (1874-1954) peaked in the 1970s. I remember playing the Bernstein LP of the "Holidays" Symphony with the volume cranked up on the cabinet stereo in the family house - especially "The Fourth of July" - in order to consternate my parents or visiting relatives. Stokowski's pioneering LP of the Fourth Symphony served the same purpose "pour epater les bourgeoises." Later I enjoyed the privilege of talking at length to Nicolas Slonimsky, who took up the Ivesian cause, much to the detriment of his conductorial career, already in the 1920s. Slonimsky, no artistic slouch himself (although entirely modest), said that he knew Ives to be a genius within seconds of meeting him, in New York, in 1925. He insisted on the immediacy of the impression. A genius, yes, but, I dare say, also an amateur, for Ives left scores perpetually incomplete, flitted between styles (often in the same piece), and felt the need to justify his experiments in prose explanations which now seem tedious and irrelevant. Music cannot be rescued by explanations. Ives's best work comes from his Yale period and briefly thereafter, when a few mentors like Parker still exercised some cautionary influence over him. The Second Symphony (1902-1910) is probably his most finished score and admits the experimental, nose-thumbing elements within a context that testifies to the composer's competency in traditional forms. Bernstein legendarily put the Second Symphony into the repertory by performing it, in a radio broadcast, in 1951. Bernard Hermann made an LP of it in the late 1960s for London. The Second has probably been recorded a dozen times. The new recorded performance under Kenneth Schermerhorn, who leads the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, forms part of the Naxos "American Classics" series. During the Ives mania of the sixties and seventies, enthusiasts overexposed this symphony, and this fact certainly challenges any interpreter who takes up this score today. Every listener will anticipate the jokey "wrong-note" chord at the climax; every listener will already expect the quotations of "Columbia," "Camptown Races," and "Turkey in the Straw." The novelty aspect of Ives has long since ceased to be novel. Starting from this premise, Schermerhorn emphasizes the Brahms- and Dvorák-derived elements of Ives's musical language, and the non-ornamental American feeling in his original material. The music is still quirkier by far than Chadwick, but we sense from Schermerhorn's reading that Ives might have had a much more productive development had he not turned aside from composing to devote his life to insurance. The "Browning Overture" shows the other side of the Ivesian coin. Almost bereft of the typical quotations of Americana, it explores the heavily chromatic language - familiar from the denser paragraphs of the two piano sonatas - that Ives shared with other experimentalists like Ruggles and Becker. "Stand up and use your ears like a man," as Ives is supposed to have said when someone in the audience complained about a piece by Henry Cowell. Stokowski recorded this forty years ago. Schermerhorn makes his own case for the music. I like the interpretation of the Second Symphony and would recommend it over the other available versions.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful recording of American masterpieces, October 1, 2000
By 
"ghills123" (West Des Moines, IA USA) - See all my reviews
Anyone familiar with Ives' music most likely knows his great Symphony No. 2 - a grand romantic work that matches the European masters in its technical assuredness, while suprising the listener with constant references to various American musical idioms. The Robert Browning Overture, however, is perhaps the last of Ives' major orchestral works to get a digital recording. And what a fine recording it is. Using the Ives Society's recent critical edition, Kenneth Schermerhorn and the Nashville S.O. give yet more evidence that Ives is among the greatest musical geniuses of this century. In turns dark, enigmatic, violent and ecstatic, it is a profound evocation of Browning and his writings. It is also important to point out that not only is this recording valuable for the works it presents, but also because the performances are excellent and the sound qaulity superb. The latter is especially important in a work of such highly contrasted volumes as the Browning Overture. Definitely a disc worth having.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charles Ives -- "Hard" and "Soft", May 21, 2003
By 
Charles Ives (1874-1954) wrote music in an American idiom incorporating American folk tunes and spirituals. He had the ambition that compositions of this nature would find a receptive audience. Ives also composed what remains some of the most difficult, modernistic music of the 20th Century, notable for its atonality, dissonance, and polyrhythm. It is a challenge to hear and to perform. Ives, or course, hoped for an audience for this music as well, while realizing its experimental "hard" character. Much of Ives's music combines both the "hard" and the "soft" elements.
The CD discussed here includes one work by Ives at his "hardest" -- the Robert Browning Overture and a work by Ives at his most accessible -- the Symphony No. 2. The disc is part of the Naxos "American Classics" series. The music is beautifully performed using an updated critical edition by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra directed by Kenneth Schermerhorn and is available at a bargain price.
Ives intended the "Robert Browning Overture" as part of a larger, never-completed project devoted to the work of famous authors. The work is based on Browning's poem "Paracelsus" and for me captures some of the mysterious spirit of alchemy and of the perils of trying to bring entirely nature under human control. The work runs about 25 minutes and alternates muted, mystical music with a loud march-like theme full of dissonances. The brass blares, the strings are shril, and the tympani plays an incessant boom -boom in the backround. Some of this music reminded me of a sophisticated version of Dukas's Sorcerer's Apprentice. Ives became dissatisfied with this piece late in his life apparently because he found it excessively formal. I found myself enjoying this music and thought it held together well.
Ives's second symphony has been well-described as the first real American symphony. He composed it between 1902 and 1910 although the work was not performed until 1951. The work is in five movements and is most notable for its incorporation of American folk songs, revival hymns, college anthems, Steven Foster tunes, and other such distinctive American material. There also are hints of late European romantic composers. The materials are woven together seamlessly in a gentle work with an unmistakably American flavor. In this symphony, I think Ives both captured and created an American form or Art music very much in the way Walt Whitman captured and created an American poetry. It is unfortunate that this work waited so long for recognition.
In his biography "Charles Ives: A Life with Music" Jan Swafford discusses the musical quality of this symphony and of its immediate successor, Ives's Symphony No. 3, noting that "With these two symphonies Ives created single-handedly, the nationalistic art music for which Dvorak had called and a good many American composers attempted without success. Rather than trying to cash in on that accomplishment, Ives moved on. ... His goal was never in the direction of what he would denounce as 'the old medieval idea of nationalism.' Local color to him was a means not an end." (Stafford, p. 158)
This disc will introduce the listener to Ives both hard and soft.
With its recent companion disc on Naxos, which features the Third Symphony, the listener will be able to enjoy and understand Ives's efforts in creating an American symphonic music.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended for the 2nd Symphony, October 24, 2002
By 
George John (Houston, TX United States) - See all my reviews
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I grew up with the Bernstein recording of the Ives 2nd Symphony which I first heard on LP during the Ives boom circa 1974 that celebrated his 100th birthday. I was a fan of the Bernstein, and wondered how I would respond to what was billed as a very different interpretation, performed by a `minor' regional orchestra that I had never heard before. Well, I was in for a very pleasant surprise. Overall, I find this performance a major improvement over the Bernstein and fully deserving of a standing ovation for a clear, clean, engaging, fun and surprising moving performance.
The first bravo goes to the Charles Ives's society who engaged Jonathan Elkus in the task of preparing a critical edition. Elkus reports to have corrected nearly a thousand errors in the version used by Bernstein. So, at least in some sense, listening to this version is like listening to a new work.
The second bravo goes to the Naxos recording engineers who have given us a clear, dynamic, and well-balanced recording.
The final bravo goes to Kenneth Schermerhorn and the Nashville Symphony who play with a wonderful sense of ensemble. Clearly, the group must have been very well rehearsed because for the most part (except for some slightly ragged 1st violins in the final movement) the orchestra plays very cleanly. My only nit pick is I wished the French Horn solos had been played with a bit more expression and bit less effort. The brass ensemble work is surprising good though.
For those not familiar with the Ives Second, I think you are in for a treat. Many of the comments made in my review of the MTT/CSO 1st and 4th Symphonies apply here as well. Ives was a genius at making what are for me musical kaleidoscopes. He somehow manages to quote (sometimes in spirit, sometimes literally) from an incredible range of diverse sources, often at the same time, and somehow it not only works, but works brilliantly.
From the liner notes we learn that Ives saw himself as a `continuing spirit' in the tradition of Beethoven. To my ear the European influences sound more like Brahms, Dvorak, and Wagner, but of course those composers were greatly inspired by Beethoven. Other influences are those found in many of Ives' works including church hymns, band music, and the popular music of his times. This odd sounding (pun intended -grin-) mix results in something that is almost always interesting, and at times fascinating and moving. I find this work immediately accessible and very fresh sounding. With the emergence of this new critical edition once can hope this work will appear on the upcoming schedules of symphony orchestras.
I wasn't familiar with the Robert Browning Overture. My first impression is I didn't feel like I had missed anything. It uses some of the compositional techniques found in works like the 4th Symphony (which I am a huge fan of), but regretfully this work didn't do much for me. It certainly seems to be a difficult work from both the POV of the performers and the audience. The orchestra seemed to lack the confidence they showed in the 2nd. Too much of the performance sounds ragged to me. As for the work itself, Ives was not satisfied with it and later repudiated it.
But, please do not let these less than enthusiastic comments dissuade you from buying this CD. I highly recommend it. All the better that it's available at a bargain price.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite, April 9, 2007
After having gotten familiar with Bernstein's old DG recording of the Second Symphony with the typically over-inflated playing he coaxes out of his orchestras, Schermerhorn's take presented me with a very refreshing, clean interpretation.

Maybe not the most "exciting" recording of the piece ever made, but I think it captures the essence of the piece more than Bernstein's passionate patriotism and conducting ever did. All the massive climaxes are plenty massive, anyway, the beautiful parts beautiful, and the playing is spectacular and sparkles with a restrained but innocent enthusiasm, which sounds more "right," more "American," even, to me than Bernstein's rather heavy-handed passion.

I am particular happy with the Symphony; the Overture is a curiosity that is well-documented here but is definitely harder to listen to. If nothing else, it prompts a new view of Ives as not just a "primitive" or a "home-grown" American composer, but a serious musician who was not afraid of experimentation or critics (due to income from a successful insurance company). Bernstein seems to have the wrong view of the man in general, as is evidenced by his essays in his recording and his recording itself.

Anyway. An excellent recording. If I had to get only one Ives Second, I would pick this one. I have since done away with Bernstein, the "usual" choice. If the Robert Browning Overture turns you off, just know that this was the man who said, "Sit down and take your dissonance like a man." If you can do that, it is well-worth it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Browning Overture., December 24, 2001
By 
Tom Brody (Berkeley, CA) - See all my reviews
I have enjoyed Charles Ives' music since I was an undergraduate during the early 1970s. I would call the Browning Overture one of the most deliciously beautiful pieces of music ever written. This particular composition seems to describe or express a certain "otherness" or "additional dimensionality" that is not often found in music. Perhaps it can be found in Mahler, e.g., in his off-stage band sequences. This certain "otherness" can also be found in abundance in Dark Star, by the Grateful Dead. I do like the transitions of Ives' mountain-crag type sounds and quiet Bartok-like "night music" sequences that are found in the Browning Overture, and in many other pieces by Ives. I look forward to more interpretations of the Browning Overture being committed to recorded format. Perhaps the Morton Gould version should be re-issued on C.D. (Of course, I can only hope for a C.D. devoted entirely to the Ruggles' symphonic works. Perhaps the Tilson Thomas recordings of the Ruggles works with the Buffalo orchestra could be re-issued.) Of course, if I were required to listen to a specific piece of music every week, it would not be the Browning Overture. It would be Vivaldi's bassoon concerto in G minor, or one of the Brahms or Schumann piano quartets or quintets, just to give some examples.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ives as basic repertoire, March 3, 2005
By 
This superb recording is Charles Ives as basic American repertoire; post-Brahmsian, late-Romantic, willfully unsophisticated in tone - which of course is partly a ruse. The baton is removed from superstars like Tilson Thomas & Bernstein & their uptown orchestras & handed to Kenneth Schermerhorn, who has made a career out of whipping downtown regional orchestras into shape. I firmly believe Ives had this kind of performance in mind: The Nashville Symphony in a time when all good professional musicians could get a handle on him.

The new score opens up space & lets air into the dense work (although one wonders, after hearing "Ives Plays Ives," if Charlie intended any of his scores to be definitive). The jokes are allowed to speak for themselves - Bernstein telegraphed them - as parodies of parlor piano & village bands. The performance has the feel of familiarity, care & sincerity. I really like it! Donald Johanos pulled off something similar over thirty years ago, recording "Holidays" with the Dallas Symphony for Turnabout, but the timing was premature.

The Robert Browning Overture, one of Ives' most challenging & best compositions, is finessed like an early something by Schoenberg, with whom Ives shared not only a genuine spirituality, but also a similar frustration with & puzzlement over the future of tonality. It's too bad Ives - an exact contemporary of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Ravel & Vaughan Williams - refused to participate in the broader cultural scene of his era. Perhaps that would have ruined him. We'll never know.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A definitive recording for a bargain price, March 31, 2001
By A Customer
It is difficult to imagine why anyone remotely interested in modern classical music would have the temerity to complain (i.e. whine) about this CD. The orchestra's passion and enthusiasm for the Ives 2nd are palpable, the performances are excellent, and Schermerhorn's knack for understanding the symphony's folk-based structure is unmistakable--more than other recent conductors of Ives' work (notably Ozawa, with his drab 4th symphony recording on DG). Note to all potential buyers: if you're looking for an Americanized Tchaikovsky, do not purchase this CD. This music is meant only for bold, intelligent listeners who aren't overly mired in the 19th-century symphonic canon. The litmus test is undoubtedly the Robert Browning Overture, a driving, monumental creation that is rendered vivid and striking in this recording, perfect for eager listeners willing to broaden their aural horizons and who aren't inclined to sulk in the dark, whimpering about not hearing something that resembles Ferde Grofe or Carl Orff.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Ives Recording, November 11, 2000
I was raised 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 they may have left us through the years, I have been slowly looking at 20th century composers from the "classical" arena to fill that void for my listening pleasure. I have discovered Charles Ives and Morton Gould after reading up further 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 early 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 music is growing on me and the fact that the technical qualities of the recording are so superb it makes the recording more appealing.
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