American Classics - Ives: Symphony No 2 / Schermerhorn, Etc

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This recording represents, in effect, a second premiere of Charles Ives' Symphony No. 2, some four decades after Leonard Bernstein's path-breaking recording for Sony Classical, recently reissued in the "Bernstein Century" series. Why premiere? Because Kenneth Schermerhorn and his excellent Nashville band play Jonathan Elkus' critical edition, prepared on behalf of the Ives Society. This new score supplants the previous "critical edition" edited by Malcolm Goldstein for inclusion in Michael Tilson Thomas' complete symphony cycle. The Society's president (and future conductor of several volumes in this ongoing series), James B. Sinclair explained to me recently that Goldstein's score represented an interim version of the work created in response to a practical need for a comparatively clean score and performance materials. The real musicological job of eliminating thousands of errors, collating and evaluating sources, and deciphering Ives' text has only just been completed, with impressive results that you can hear for yourself.

How then does this version differ from previous incarnations of the symphony? The principal corrections not surprisingly concern tempo, but also pertain to dynamics and orchestration. In the second movement, the second subject (based on the tune "Where Oh Where are the Pea-green Freshmen?") now trips along in tempo, and the exposition repeat has been restored. Not having both scores available for comparison, it also seems that a lot of woodwind detail has been clarified and rhythmic definition sharpened, though this may to some extent stem from Schermerhorn's superb conducting and the orchestra's really outstanding playing. The finale also benefits from a longer, slower build to the final wacky appearance of "Columbia the Gem of the Ocean", and it has acquired a triangle part alongside some other modifications in instrumentation. In general, the entire score sounds cleaner and clearer, closer to the Ives of the Third Symphony--more continuous, and therefore funnier because its discontinuities appear more purposeful. I mean, who else would create a principal theme, as Ives does in his second movement, out of the tune "Wake Nicodemus" married to a chromatic sequence straight out of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde (check out Act II, Scene 2, Tristan's speech beginning with the words "Was dich umgliss...")?

The Robert Browning Overture, one of Ives' most intractable pieces, also comes off sounding fresher and more coherent than ever before. Its dissonant, densely scored march sections grind along with a purposeful tread that almost brings to mind Carl Ruggles' similarly Browning-inspired masterpiece Sun-treader. Again, much of the credit must go to orchestra and conductor. They play both works with complete confidence and unflinching directness. In the symphony, it's obvious that they have their tongues firmly in their cheeks, and the results couldn't possibly be more enjoyable. Coming hot on the heels of their sensational Hanson CD, this partnership looks to be the American music happening of the new millennium. Bravo!
--David Hurwitz,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8559076

  • UPC: 636943907627

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Charles Ives

  • Conductor: Kenneth Schermerhorn

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Nashville Symphony Orchestra


  1. Symphony no 2

    Composer: Charles Ives

    Ensemble: Nashville Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Kenneth Schermerhorn

  2. Robert Browning Overture

    Composer: Charles Ives

    Ensemble: Nashville Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Kenneth Schermerhorn