Michael Tilson Thomas

Ives: Three Places in New England; Ruggles: Sun-treader; Piston: Symphony No. 2

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Perhaps an identifiable hallmark of American music is individualism; this trait is certainly present in these works. In his Three Places in New England, Charles Ives conveys a kind of boisterous nationalism, though the fragments of patriotic tunes and hymns are refracted through his filters of polytonality, clustered harmonies, and counterrhythms. The combinations are subtle in the meditative outer movements "The 'St. Gaudens' in Boston Common" and "The Housatonic at Stockbridge," but given full, chaotic splendor in the middle section, "Putnam's Camp." Where Ives is evocative, Carl Ruggles is decidedly more abstract and harder to pin down. Yet Sun-Treader is a bold work of great ingenuity, and its stark sonorities and driving force put it among the most striking modernist works of the century. Walter Piston's Symphony No. 2 is unabashedly tonal and typical of the open, populist style employed by Piston's contemporaries Aaron Copland and Roy Harris. However, Piston goes his own way, giving his music a more cosmopolitan flavor by including suggestions of Italian popular music and French orchestration. This reissue is taken from two LPs issued by Deutsche Grammophon in 1970 and 1971, and the performances by Michael Tilson Thomas and the Boston Symphony Orchestra are superb.

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