Review Orchestra New England, Charles Ives: Complete Sets for Orchestra, Naxos Label by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

As the 150th birthday of Charles Ives looms next year, now is the time to get to know this most American of Mavericks. Well known for his involvement in a extremely lucrative insurance firm, Ives composed on weekends. What was conjured from his hand remains an outburst of outrageous and outstanding pieces, way ahead of it’s time.

Orchestra New England have delighted in these devilish sets some of which are premiere recordings. Granted, most of these pieces are recycled from his ludicrous and sensational songs (of which he wrote many). Its curious to see his original version of The Unanswered Question, essentially the same work if rushed, even if it maintains its sharpness in concept. Conductor James Sinclair brings these oddities wonderfully together, without a drop of novelty. I did recognise some of the songs: the brief, yet angular The Cage, an enthralling cowboy ballad Charlie Rutledge, the queasy bout of Like A Sick Eagle and more. All delivered with a fiery acknowledgement of irony and some tender moments which border on the touching.

Perhaps those keen to take the plunge with Ives might fare well with this fairly accessible recording before venturing into the more out there stuff. It’s the way he did things that’s so fascinating, concepts and discoveries that predate movements decades later. These sets define a sort of Americanism, something hard to pin down at times. Pick any of the sets at random and you’d be surprised. You can pick out old hymns, spirituals, vaudeville, marching bands, jamerbies and other noise which caught Ives’ ear.

The time for Ives is now.

Buy now on CD and digital download.

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