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Ives: Concord Symphony; Copland: Organ Symphony / Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony

Release Date: 02/08/2011 
Label:  San Francisco Symphony   Catalog #: 38   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Charles IvesAaron Copland
Performer:  Paul Jacobs
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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SuperAudio CD:  $21.99
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.


IVES-BRANT A Concord Symphony. COPLAND Organ Symphony Michael Tilson Thomas, cond; Paul Jacobs (org); San Francisco S SFS MEDIA 821936-0038-2 (SACD: 77:26) Live: San Francisco 2/2010

The estimable Michael Tilson Read more Thomas Mahler series, a dozen SACD releases on the San Francisco Symphony’s house label, has been completed after nine years. Christopher Abbot, Fanfare ’s Mahler specialist, and I reviewed every one of these in tandem; I was on board because, at the outset of the project, multichannel SACD was exotic and … well, I’m a perpetual early-adopter. SFS Media has now issued its first post-Mahler SACDs, a program of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony plus the Piano Concerto No. 4 (reviewed elsewhere in this issue) and this one. Happily, Joel Flegler has agreed to allow Chris and me to continue our collaboration. As before, I’ll be focusing more on sonics, which were quite consistently excellent with the Mahler discs.

Taking up 50 minutes of this generous program is Henry Brant’s inspired orchestral rendering of Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord, Mass., 1840-1860.” To appreciate just how inspired, try alternating movements of the keyboard original—my new favorite version is Jeremy Denk’s—with the orchestral realization. Brant labored on his arrangement for more than 35 years and took pains to emphasize that he wasn’t attempting to score the piece as Ives might have (acknowledging that only Ives could have done that) but rather to “present Ives’s astounding music in clear, vivid, and intense sonorities.” Nonetheless, the marching-band episode in “Hawthorne,” as orchestrated by Brant, could have come right out of the “Holidays” Symphony. MTT’s stylistic aptness and the San Franciscans’ collective virtuosity surpass the very fine version from Dennis Russell Davies and the Concertgebouw (Volume 7 of The Henry Brant Collection, on Innova).

Copland’s Organ Symphony—a work suggested to the young composer by Nadia Boulanger, who came to New York to play the solo part for the premiere in 1925—fares just as well. Tilson Thomas captures the mysterious quality of the first movement marvelously and there’s a propulsive swing to the obsessive triplet figurations of the second. The SFS brass are easily able to match the organ’s power in the finale. I do prefer Paul Jacobs’ way with the organ part to E. Power Biggs’s gothic rumblings and screeching for Bernstein. Biggs—or Columbia’s engineers—didn’t get the message that the organ was to be “treated as an integral part of the orchestra rather than as a solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment,” to quote the composer.

Both this program and the Beethoven SACD noted above are the work of a different production team than was responsible for the Mahler cycle. (Jack Vad was the producer.) The engineering lays out the complexities of Brant’s arrangement with gratifying lucidity, especially with multichannel playback. Woodwind contributions that might have been swamped by strings and brass in a lesser effort are quite audible here. There’s a broad, expansive soundstage and, as with the SFS Beethoven disc, instrumental signatures are faithfully and appealingly reproduced. Timpani have a visceral impact. Very natural balances between organ and orchestra are achieved with the symphony. I’m committing to 2011 Want List status for this disc, and it’s only February.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint


There is no finer conductor of Ives or Copland today than Michael Tilson Thomas, and it's so fulfilling to see him doing what he does best on the San Francisco Symphony's own label. Henry Brant's orchestration of Ives' Concord Sonata doesn't sound much like Ives. The harp clearly doesn't belong, and while The Alcotts begins like a lovely old church organ, the winds soon turn Stravinskian. Brant was a modernist, and he scores like one: hard and unyielding. What makes Ives often so interesting is the fact that his modernisms are presented in more romantic trappings; the weight of tone still favors the strings. This makes them at once more palatable and more shocking. Still, Brant's work has merit for the curious Ivesian, and this second recording is in fact even more brilliant and punchy than Dennis Russell Davies' previous Concertgebouw Orchestra rendition.

Copland's Organ Symphony also is neglected in favor of its rescoring as "Symphony No. 1" (though that's hardly more popular). It's a magnificent work, and the organ original really is the preferable version. As with Ives, it's the contrast between Copland's resolutely modern, jazzy, rhythmic early style and the stuffy timbre of the organ that energizes the whole piece. Davies Symphony Hall has a spectacular organ that's very well captured by the engineers. Paul Jacobs plays beautifully; his instrument "fits" into the general sonic framework very naturally, while Thomas and the orchestra play as if to the manner born. A great disc.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Piano no 2 "Concord, Mass 1840-60" by Charles Ives
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911-1915; USA 
Notes: Orchestration by Henry Brant 
Symphony for Organ and Orchestra "Organ Symphony" by Aaron Copland
Performer:  Paul Jacobs (Organ)
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924; Paris, France 
Concord Symphony (after Piano Sonata No. 2 "Concord, Mass 1840-60") by Charles Ives
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Notes: Orchestration by Henry Brant
There are two works on this album. This listing is added to assist shoppers at ArkivMusic who search for this orchestrated version under Charles Ives - Orchestral, rather than keyboard works. 

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