Charles Ives – Variations on America (and other pieces arranged for wind band)

0 of 5 stars

Variations on America
Overture and March 1776
They Are There! (A War Song March)
Old Home Days: Suite for Band
March Intercollegiate
Fugue in C
March: Omega Lambda Chi
Variations on Jerusalem the Golden
A Son of a Gambolier
Postlude in F
Country Band March
Holidays Symphony – Decoration Day
Charlie Rutlage
The Circus Band
Runaway Horse on Main Street
March No.6, with Here’s to Good Old Yale
Concord Sonata – The Alcotts

‘The President’s Own’ United States Marine Band
Colonel Timothy W. Foley

Recorded 2-6 June 2003 in Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall, Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: December 2007
CD No: NAXOS 8.570559
Duration: 73 minutes



The sequence is launched with one of Ives’s best-known pieces, Variations on ‘America’ – a tune more familiar as the British National Anthem. Originally written for organ (when Ives was 17), it was transcribed for orchestra by William Schuman with, in turn, William E. Rhoads fashioning the band version heard here. I find this performance oddly ‘soft-grained’, given the forces involved, and Schuman’s orchestral colouring is noticeable for its absence, as is the wit and point possible in the hands of an imaginative organist. Two marches then follow, the one for 1776 previously mentioned and They Are There!, a quickstep in all but name, and almost jarringly contrasted to what comes before and after it on the CD – a consistent feature of this programme.

The “Town and Gown” segment is initially represented by Old Home Days: Suite for Band, selected and arranged by Jonathan Elkus from disparate sources – mainly songs. As elsewhere, the lack of voices (be they solo or choral) imagined or intended by Ives is a disappointment to anyone familiar with the vocal versions. The second piece ‘The Opera House’ is typical of Ives’s quirky humour, as is the concluding number – ‘London Bridge is Fallen Down!’ – another work intended for piano or organ, heard here in a transcription of Kenneth Singleton’s realisation for brass quintet.

Many of the pieces here are quite short – the marches especially. More substantial fare is to be found in the Fugue in C, for example, which is taken from the first movement of Ives’s First String Quartet, and later found its way – considerably elaborated – into the Fourth Symphony as that work’s third movement. ‘Decoration Day’ is the second movement of Ives’s ‘Holidays’ Symphony, again transcribed by Elkus. To be honest, I did not feel that these versions added to one’s knowledge of the music; ‘Decoration Day’, in particular, is less effective for the lack of Ives’s own distinctive instrumentation. Similarly, the songs “Charlie Rutlage” and “The Circus Band” are not heard to their best advantage without the composer’s characteristic vocal writing.

‘The President’s Own’ United States Marine Band plays securely and is effectively directed. The sound is clear and the booklet notes (by Elkus) detailed. But a mixed bag, overall. Perhaps of most value if one is familiar with the ‘originals’ and best sampled in small doses.

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