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Volume 1
Symphony No 2; Symphony No 3 ‘The Camp Meeting’;
Ives/Becker General William Booth enters into Heaven

Volume 2
Symphony No 1; Symphony No 4; Central Park in the Dark

Hyperion CDA67525/SACDA67525 & CDA67540/SACDA67540 [2004-2006, 149 mins]

A brief welcome for this fine integrale of the symphonies of Charles Ives(1874-1954) , which are only played occasionally and benefit from being heard complete. There are few symphonic 'journeys' of the period to compare with this (Nielsen's Brahmsian 1st to his pessimistic modernist 6th comes to mind, also Sibelius No 1 to No 7).

The four are best taken as a whole, but one at a time. I'd advise No 2 (c.1902) first. You need to try to put on turn-of-the-Century ears (c.f. Elgar's Enigma) to savour its 'joyful revolution, the first work for the concert hall with an unmistakable American voice' (Jan Swafford). Brahms, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky rub shoulders with Stephen Foster, hymns and college tunes in a glorious undigested collage. My only regret is that Litton didn't hold on to the "yawping tone cluster" of the famous final chord longer.

Sadly this symphony, so much of its time and place, had to wait until nearly the end of the composer's life to be heard (Leonard Bernstein, 1951).

From there, back to Ives' college thesis, Symphony No 1 (on the other disc; they really should have been boxed all together) and forward via the most obviously attractive and characteristic Camp Meeting sound pictures to the radical No 4, here clarified with unwonted lucidity by Litton with two assistant conductors.

Excellent recording and presentation; Jan Swafford's masterly introductions can be read more easily on line than on the small print of the booklets, and there are substantial sound extracts on the Hyperion website to whet your appetite.

I don't have SACD - how many readers do, and would any of you like to comment on the benefits?

Peter Grahame Woolf