My first acquaintance with Ives music was in 1980, when I listened to his 2nd symphony, in a record with Bernard Herrmann conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, and I wasn't put off by its extraordinary complexity, I was exhilarated with the generous use of musical quotes from different sources -Bach, religious hymns, popular american songs-, and I realized that it wasn't a chaotic or disorienting experience. In rapid progression I purchased his "Three places in New England" with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra and the "Holidays Symphony" with Bernstein conducting, work that appears featured in this volume of the Bernstein Century series. "Holidays" is not really a symphony, it's assembled with four separate works, "Washington's Birthday", "Decoration Day", "The Fourth of July" and "Thanksgiving and Forefather's day". I remember how disappointed I was by the quality of the recording, which lost too much details of orchestration and nuances, and I felt that was a kind of love's labor lost for Bernstein and his Orchestra. I was lucky to attend a concert by the New York Philharmonic under Mehta in 1982, and they performed "Decoration Day", the "second movement" of the Holidays Symphony. That experience revealed the myriad details I suspected that lay underneath the multiple layers of ivesian orchestral sound. So, when this reissue appeared,I had some misgivings, fearing that the analog to digital transfer would enhance the worst from the original recording. Luckily it wasn't so.This is a careful transfer, not miraculous, but for the first time in 32 years I can listen to this pioneering recording of the Holidays Symphony da capo al fine without feeling uncomfortable. As for The Unanswered Question, this recording remains for me unbeatable, as well as Central Park in the dark. The recordings of these last two works by Bernstein with NYPO for DG, although favoured with an admirable sound quality, lack the spontaneity of the versions that appear on the Sony reissue. This versions won't fail to win new adepts for the music of America's most original composer, therefore are strongly recommended.
Regarding Elliot Carter's Concerto for orchestra, written in 1969, this recording proves to be much more exciting and alert than my previous reference recording with David Atherton conducting the London Sinfonietta. One of America's foremost comtemporary composers,Carter abandoned his original neoclassical trend and embraced atonalism, which led to the composition of works like his Variation for orchestra and the present one we are commenting. Certainly, it's not so engaging on first hearing like the works of Ives, but nonetheless it deserves attention. I feel more attracted to his Piano sonata, his Sonata for cello and piano, and the string quartets, but if you happen to run into the present cd, it will prove to be a most satisfactory experience in contemporary american music.