Andrew Davis

Charles Ives: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 - Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2

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Charles Ives composed his first two symphonies between 1897 and 1902, but they weren't performed until a half-century later, when Leonard Bernstein premiered the Symphony No. 2 in 1951, and Richard Bales conducted the Symphony No. 1 in 1953. The contrasts between the two symphonies are striking, since the First was a student work, composed in emulation of the European tradition, while the Second was more idiosyncratic in the use of hymn tunes, folk songs, and other Americana, all developed in a freewheeling manner that reflected Ives' eclectic musical upbringing. This 2015 hybrid SACD by Andrew Davis and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is a straightforward presentation of both works, side-by-side, and their differences are highlighted in the styles of playing. Because the First is a late Romantic symphony, it receives a rather serious and earnest interpretation, yet this piece isn't quite convincing because it seems too much like a pastiche of Dvorák and Tchaikovsky, and Ives' personality is barely perceptible. The performance of the Second is much more in keeping with Ives' character, and the playing is as jaunty and fresh as the previous performance was brooding and sentimental. Davis and the orchestra are committed in both of these performances, though it doesn't take close listening to tell which of the two symphonies they more enjoyed playing.

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