Familiar Composers in a New Light

* * * * IVES: "When the Moon" Susan Narucki, soprano; Sanford Sylvan, tenor; Alan Feinberg, pianist; Music Projects, Richard Bernas, conductor Decca

It's an accepted irony that for a great American composer, Charles Ives doesn't command nearly enough space in CD bins or on concert programs. That void amplifies the importance of a recording like this one, which bravely expands the Ives discography beyond the usual Ivesian suspects. The central notion here is both obvious and inspired, matching Ives' orchestral songs with versions for piano and voice, creating a wonderful feast of compare and contrast.

Wit and introspection are afoot here, beginning with the opening track--all of 47 seconds--"The See'r," from his Set No. 1 for Orchestra. That set closes with a probingly lyrical Allegro Sobreoso (based on Ives' song "Incantation," it uses Byron's poem, with a text that begins "When the moon is on the wave"); its unsettled lyricism and trumpet solo slightly echo Ives' famed "Unanswered Question." In Set No. 5, a rowdy brand of Americana--now folksy, now dissonant, always thoroughly Ives-ian--rears its head.

In all, it's a project attended to with loving, thinking care by all involved. In the instrumental portion of the program, Richard Bernas conducts London's Music Projects with a crisp purpose and color. Later, in the vocal segment, the music is illuminated by the supple powers of Susan Narucki and Sanford Sylvan, with sentient collaboration from Alan Feinberg.

"The Pond/Remembrance," a eulogy for his father, George Edward Ives, closes both portions of the program with a sweet sadness.

In the end, as impressive as the vocal treatments are, the more surprising and valuable material comes from the orchestra. What we get from the elliptical instrumental fragments is a sense of song-making, radically revised and personalized, but song-related, nonetheless. The underlying message has to do with Ives' uncanny ability to ferret out profound expression from the cracks between established genres and compositional strategies.

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