I had some reservations about this CD before I listened to it. It is, after all, Ives as played by a military band -- "The President's Own" United States Marine Band -- and none of the music was originally written for wind band. But after only a few notes I was aware that it was going to be not only acceptable but necessary. Every single piece here is a transcription of one sort or another. The first piece -- 'Variations on "America" -- is described in the exhaustive booklet notes as 'Transcribed by William E. Rhoads from William Schuman's orchestration of E. Power Biggs's edition of Ive's variations for organ, S. 140.' Whew! That's some journey this piece has taken. Of course we are familiar with Schuman's orchestration and Ives's organ original. This band version loses nothing in the translation and in fact, in a strange way, even sounds 'right', even more so than the organ version. Go figure!
There are two other 'major' works here -- Jonathan Elkus's arrangement of five disparate pieces into 'Old Home Days: Suite for Band', and arrangement of the 'The Alcotts' movement from Ives's 'Concord' Piano Sonata. Both are spectacularly done by Elkus and by the Marine Band. The latter, I must say, sounds as good as a wind band possibly can; they are sensational, there's no other word for it.
Much of the rest of the disc is devoted to pieces that recall for us the patriotic and folk songs of the latter part of the 19th century, as well as the tradition, not entirely dead -- I live in an area where it persists -- of the town band. Ives's father, after all, was the bandmaster of the
Danbury, Connecticut, cornet band and it was their sound that Ives grew up hearing. Some of the pieces are arrangements of some of Ives's quirkily original songs, such as 'Charlie Rutlage', 'The Circus Band', and 'The Opera House.' One piece I'd never heard before in any guise is the 'Omega Lambda Chi March', modeled on Sousa's 'Liberty Bell March', and a real rouser.
Several other names need to mentioned besides those of Elkus and Foley. Several arrangements are by the Sousa maven Keith Brion, and by James Sinclair, probably the most familiar of the that group of musicologists who have devoted themselves to Ives's music, and arranger Kenneth Singleton, another Ivesian.
Two of the pieces that are the most fun -- and most of this music is downright fun -- are the bizarre arrangement of 'London Bridge is Falling Down!' that mimics some of Ives's rumbustious youthful piano improvisations, and 'March Intercollegiate' that takes off those college songs, like 'Far Above Cayuga's Waters', giving them the rides of their lives.
I can't recommend this CD highly enough. It's definitely one to treasure.