Ives: Variations on “
You’ve never heard Ives quite like this. Here are 21 arrangements (five of them as movements within a suite) of various and sundry Ives works, sketches, bits and pieces, arranged and transcribed and otherwise made to fit the polished perfectionism of “The President’s Own,” as the United States Marine Band is known. This is a band with a very elegant sound, beautifully rounded and without rough edges. Its playing is well-mannered and refined – and, you might well think, exactly wrong for the thumb-your-nose-at-the-musical-establishment sonic world of Ives.
Yet this is a marvelous disc, partly because a great deal of the music is unfamiliar; partly because much of it is early, tonal Ives; partly because the arrangements are excellent; but mostly because the United States Marine Band – although its inability to cut loose makes a CD of it performing Ives seem an incongruity – plays these pieces so superbly.
The most interesting thing that ardent Ivesians will learn from this disc is that the composer was quite capable of writing a march as good as Sousa’s. “March Intercollegiate,” with its strong military beat, is a gem that might have been written by the March King himself. “March: ‘Omega Lambda Chi,’” written for a nonexistent Yale fraternity that was used as a joke on incoming freshmen, is also Sousa-like, sounding much like “The Liberty Bell” at start and finish. For a greater blend of the Sousa sound with Ives’ rough-hewn humor, there is “March No. 6, with ‘Here’s to Good Old Yale,’” in which the straitlaced elements of Sousa are somewhat subsumed…or subdued.
Other march tunes here are more recognizably Ivesian. “Overture and March ‘1776’” moves from a subtle, quiet opening to loud dissonances with many off-beats, and prominently includes one of Ives’ favorite tunes, “
There are a number of Ives’ solemn pieces interspersed among the marches. The four-voice “Fugue in C” is warm and hymnlike, building slowly, then suddenly reaching a climax before fading out. “Variations on ‘
As for the remaining pieces: “Old Home Days” consists of five short movements based on early Ives works – a short, warm Waltz; a double march called “The Opera House and Old Home Day”; a quiet, churchlike interlude called “The Collection”; a funereal but not particularly sad “Slow March”; and an eruption of gaiety in which Ives plays games with the song, “London Bridge Is Fallen Down!” “Charlie Rutlage” starts and ends as a cowboy tune, but its central section is packed with dissonance and dramatic cross-rhythms. “Runaway Horse on
The CD’s opening and closing pieces make appropriate bookends. “Variations on ‘
A sonic delight, this CD is perhaps not ideal for Ives purists – but it is purely enjoyable from start to finish.