These two choral works are of music which precedes and follows Charles Ives' wilder explorations. The oratorio The Celestial Country (composed when Ives was a church organist in New Jersey, and first performed 1902) is relatively conventional, but he is beginning to react against heavy German romanticism and there are a few hints of what was to come. It is splendid, rousing stuff, varied with solos, a cappella choruses and sections with organ and string quartet, ending with a chorale and finale To the eternal Father, Loudest anthems raise, with 'as much Wagner as Ives would ever display'.
Silence Acccompanied is a choral cycle compilation from songs and pieces for small chamber ensemble dating from (mostly) around 1920. Ives published privately a collection of his songs and thought about organising them into sets or 'mini song-cycles'. This sequence for The St. Olaf Choir includes Ives' last work Sunrise (1926); soon after completing it, he told his wife that he couldn't compose any more, "nothing went well – nothing sounded right". During his remaining 28 years he only revised and completed earlier works. Silence Acccompanied works very well and I found it moving; the orchestations here are from indications by Ives or implied from similar examples.
The impressive St. Olaf Choir (conductor Anton Armstrong) was founded 1912 and performs all over USA. The soloists are drawn from the choir. Only Dan Dressen is frankly over-parted for the demanding tenor aria. Baritone Michael Jorgenson is fine, as is mezzo Martha Hart in Silence Acccompanied. Recording is excellent. The presentation provides full background information and all the texts.
Copyright © 2003, Peter Grahame Woolf