The Concord Sonata into the Concord Symphony

Friday night Dave and I went to Davies Hall to hear MTT conducting an orchestration by Henry Brant of Charles Ives’s Concord Sonata. The Concord, as Ives wrote it, is a very difficult and densely written work for solo piano; I’ve listened to it a few times on record but never with much comprehension. As arranged by Brant, it is much clearer, much easier to make out what is going on. Still a difficult work to figure out, but I felt I could see much further into it this way, and I came away with some sense of the work’s overall shape that I never did with the piano sonata. Now I want to get hold of a recording of the symphonic version and listen to it some more, and that’s saying something because I had pretty much figured the Concord Sonata was a work I was probably just never going to figure out how to listen to with understanding or enjoyment in this lifetime.

Brant worked for several decades on the orchestration, in between other projects, as a labor of love. The orchestration is terrific; some of the orchestral colors didn’t always sound quite like Ives’s own, but it rang true to my ear all the way through and I’m not sure that it wasn’t actually a more skilled orchestration than any of Ives’s own. At any rate, I often felt there was a greater variety of colors and a greater transparency to the orchestration than Ives generally had. There are also some appropriately inexplicable Ivesian quirks, such as a wind machine in the the percussion section that as far as Dave and I noticed only gets used once, and for only a few bars.

The other work on the program was a short Schubert mass which they could have skipped as far as I was concerned, though I did notice quite a few people came only for it and left at intermission, so I guess it had its purpose on the program. It was probably chosen as something easy and pleasant that the orchestra could just about sight-read through, so as to save all the orchestra’s rehearsal time for the difficult and unfamiliar Ives/Brant work.

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