Viewers of the San Francisco Symphony’s televised series Keeping Score are familiar with Michael Tilson Thomas’ methodical deep dives into classical masterpieces, where he reveals the raw materials and surrounding musical cultures that inspired great music and proves that composers never work in a vacuum. In a sense, this hybrid SACD is the audio equivalent of one of Tilson Thomas’ informative programs, only in the case of Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 3: The Camp Meeting, and the Symphony No. 4, the main source material is easy to follow in two groupings of the original Protestant hymns Ives quoted; the San Francisco Symphony Chorus offers them as prefaces to each of the symphonies, preparing the listener to hear how they are woven in the orchestral textures and conveying the mystical feelings that spurred Ives’ creativity. Earlier in his career, Tilson Thomas earned his Ives credentials with his complete symphonic cycle on CBS Masterworks, divided between the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, though there was no breaking down of themes or demonstrations of the pieces’ components, just straight performances. The programming here shows Tilson Thomas’ abiding interest in the nuts and bolts of Ives’ music, and makes the case that the Third and the Fourth are just as much a part of the Americana style as any work by Gershwin, Copland, or Harris, despite their eccentricity and difficulty. The multichannel sound of the recording is spacious and quite clean, and the live performances are crisply detailed and warm in tone.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Symphony No. 3, The Camp Meeting|
|Symphony No. 4|