Ives: Variations on 'America' (CD review)

Also, Old Home Days; The Alcotts. Colonel Timothy W. Foley, United States Marine Band. Naxos 8.570559.

With the big exceptions of "The Unanswered Question" and "Central Park in the Dark," some of the music by Charles Ives (1874-1954) can be more than a bit clamorous and dissonant, turning off a few listeners. But it seems to me that it would be hard for anyone not to like this collection of Ives's early band music, superbly rendered in modern concert-band arrangements by "The President's Own" United States Marine Band.

The booklet note tells us that Ives grew up like his elder contemporary, John Philip Sousa, enjoying and later composing band music, and the works of Ives on this disc, from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, show us the influence it had on the young man.

Most of the pieces, which range from marches ("Country Band March") to waltzes ("Waltz") to fictitious college anthems ("Omega Lambda chi") to legitimate college tunes ("A Son of a Gambolier") to miniature tone poems ("Runaway Horse on Main Street") to full-blown suites ("Old Home Days"), are absolutely charming, touching, and moving by turns, only occasionally erupting into the cacophonous discord we sometimes associate with the composer. Of course, whereas Sousa remained devoted to band music all his life and seldom strayed too far from the martial style, Ives soon developed a taste for wider interests, as his symphonies, songs, and chamber music attest.  Still, Ives remained, as did Sousa, dedicated to pure Americana, and one can hear in this band music the many nationalistic themes to come.

The audio, which Naxos recorded in 2003, is pleasantly smooth for a band recording, with plenty of depth and bloom, though not a lot of air around the instruments. The miking sounds moderately distanced, yet the sonics still carry a nice impact, and, most of all, everything is highly listenable.

Adapted from a review the author originally published in the $ensible Sound magazine.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa