Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Transcendental modernist masterworks from Australia


The third volume in Sir Andrew Davis's Charles Ives series for Chandos includes my favourite Charles Ives work, and my favourite American symphony, "The Camp Meeting", Ives' Third. A cherished RCA Red Seal LP from 1969 began this crush: Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Then came Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas, Andrew Litton - my goodness, Ives is very well-served on disc!

Davis has everything in hand, Ives-wise, with his musicians Down Under. After a pretty solid beginning, each new disc has been better than the last. Davis runs through Symphony no. 3 at a brisk pace, a bit zippier than Ormandy and much quicker than the reverent Leonard Bernstein NY Philharmonic recording from 1983. But there's no lack of weight to the Melbourne Symphony's playing, though their string sound isn't quite up to the New Yorkers or the Fabulous Philadelphians, helped as it is by the typically full and warm Chandos sound.  Nearly all of my favourite music has some sort of nostalgic sadness or saudade, as they say in Brazil. Davis brings this out beautifully, especially in the 1st movement: "Old Folks Gatherin'". This helps to underline the humorous passages, never far away in Ives, that pop up later in the symphony.

In the amazing 4th Symphony Davis has an ace in the hole: pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, who is blazing a luminous trail for Chandos in a wide variety of music: Mozart, Beethoven, Bartok, Stravinsky and more. This is nothing as orthodox as a piano concerto, but it calls for all of Bavouzet's virtuosity and musicianship. The French pianist has a particularly light touch, which is welcome, as the piano comments on the action, occasionally egging the orchestra on to furious action, or going off on jazzy tangents of its own. This amazing work takes hard-core New England Transcendentalism, runs it through Ives's one-of-a-kind imagination, and ends up as a completely home-grown Modernist masterpiece. That's one heck of an accomplishment that I can hardly believe even as I listen to it. Sir Andrew Davis deserves a lot of credit for taking Ives out of his flinty New England soil and have it sound so right and natural in Australia.

This disc is due to be released on March 3, 2017.

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