The Unanswered Question -Charles Ives penned “The Unanswered Question” in 1906 for a solitary probing trumpet, four quarrelsome woodwinds and only a small complement of strings. There is something quintessentially American about the notion of addressing the meaning of existence in under five minutes. But no one has accused it of being any the less for its economy of scale, and Ives’ innovations are still with us.
Stasis is a problem for composers – like watching musical paint dry – so how to reveal timelessness? Ives devises a hushed, glacially revolving string chorale to express what he calls “the silence of the Druids”. A few years later Vaughan Williams began his Tallis “Fantasia” for strings in similar raptness. And today composers such as Adams, P.rt and Rautavaara still depict the infinite by using sustained strings.
Total time: 01:17:59
|Original Recording Format|
John Newton, Jesse Lewis (Soundmirror, Boston)
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, Oregon
|Recording Type & Bit Rate||
|Release Date||August 14, 2015|
Music for a Time of War, a PentaTone Classics album featuring the Oregon Symphony under Carlos Kalmar, brings together four powerful, moving compositions that in some way were inspired by war, conflict, and strife. While many albums bring together the wealth of music written during or immediately following the Second World War, Kalmar’s program is more varied and is made quite successful because of it.
The album opens with Ives’ solitary, isolating Unanswered Question, which, though not directly brought about by a war, nevertheless addresses conflict within the score. Walt Whitman’s wrenching account of his medical duties during the Civil War is set to great effect by John Adams. Baritone Sanford Sylvan’s performance here is as gripping as Whitman’s words: deep, resonant tone, clear diction, and a seamless blend with the orchestra characterise Sylvan’s singing. More directly inspired by specific military events is militaristic and evocative Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem.
The program closes with Vaughan Williams Fourth Symphony which, though completed in 1931, the composer denied it being any sort of depiction of military buildup. Perhaps in retrospect we find things in the sometimes savage, frenzied score that remind us of the events of the time.
Throughout the album, Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony prove they can easily stand alongside the world’s great orchestras. Their sound is powerful and engaging, their technique is polished and effortless, and the intricate control of balance makes listening quite enjoyable. This is certainly an album worth investigating. 4 1/2 Star Rating.
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