single play; Charles Ives and Paul Creston: Second Symphonies Detroit Symphony / Neeme Jarvi (Chandos CHAN 9390). John Taverner: Western Wind Mass, etc Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips (Gimell CDGIM 995)
Friday 01 September 1995
Press the start button and for a page or two you're thinking: here's someone who wants to be Brahms or Dvorak or both. And then a quartet of horns peep over the horizon with a snatch of "Columbia the Gem of the Ocean" and, before you know it, the Danbury Cornet Band is marching down Mainstreet and Charles Ives is in his heaven.
Listening to this lovable symphony is a little like sitting in the bleachers for America's big coming-out parade. It's good-bye Europe, hello America, wherever you are. And it's the spirit of Stephen Foster, America's first homesteading songster, that gives it its life and soul. I'm not sure that Jarvi quite knows what that means. He's a little shy, even suspicious, of the sentiment, and he completely flunks that peach of a moment in the rowdy pay-off where the trumpets hurl a bum-note into the final reprise of "Columbia".
No, Bernstein is definitely your man for this piece. But the coupling is valuable. Paul Creston, the largely self-taught son of Italian immigrants, set out to make a "song and dance" of his 1945 Symphony. His "song" sings the great outdoors, growing inexorably from cellos and violas to find uplift in flute and piano, nobility in the horns, and vulnerability in a solo oboe. Its metamorphosis towards a triumphant declaration of independence is one worth savouring. ES
Taverner: Western Wind Mass etc
Imagine the Anglican Church started using a communion-setting based on a Kylie Minogue song: the Telegraph would be printing editorials edged in black. But is what John Taverner got up to in the 1500s any less outrageous? His "Western Wind" Mass is based on a pop song of his day, which ends with the lines, "Christ! If my love were in my arms, / and I in my bed again."
Taverner's use of this simple tune is fabulously inventive, however, and his Mass one of the most influential settings in English music. I must say, though, that I find the more elaborate Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas even more satisfying. The Tallis Scholars are sometimes criticised for expressive coldness or restraint, but I like their objective, unsentimentalised clarity and their ability to bring out so much of the vitality and ingenuity of the polyphonic writing. The recordings are up to Gimell's usual seraphic standards - a fine tribute for the 450th anniversary of Taverner's death. SJ
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