IVES/BRANT: A Concord Symphony COPLAND: Organ Symphony San Francisco Symphony; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor SFS Media Maybe no piece of music can encompass the universe, but Charles Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 2 (“Concord, Mass., 1840-1860’’) comes awfully close, a dense, haranguing, exhilarating grasp at transcendental infinities. Henry Brant’s orchestration of the Sonata does it gorgeous justice. Brant was best known for his avant-garde spatial musical experiments, but he was also a master orchestrator, and “A Concord Symphony’’ is a dazzling exemplar: Every line, every layer of Ives’s sedimented grandeur pops with a perfect instrumental analogue. The result is rich aural evidence of just how many rivers of musical Americana spring from Ives’s source.
This recording, from live performances by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, is both more mercurial and more lush than the symphony’s previous recording (Dennis Russell Davies conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, on Innova). It works beautifully, every note haloed with romantic polish. It’s paired with an ironically elegant reading of Aaron Copland’s early, cheeky bad-boy “Organ Symphony’’ (with organist Paul Jacobs). But Ives’s fine immensities echo the strongest.
MOZART: STRING QUARTETS K. 157, 458, AND 589 Jerusalem Quartet Harmonia Mundi Mozart’s string quartets do not divide quite as neatly into early, middle, and late periods as do Beethoven’s. Nevertheless, the Jerusalem Quartet creates an instructive and highly enjoyable recording by choosing quartets widely spaced in the composer’s career. The quartet play with a nicely blended sound and a keen appreciation for Mozart’s lyricism and dramatic pacing, as much in the slow movement of the early quartet, K. 157, as in the late K. 589, a piece whose innovation is exceeded only by its compression. And the three finales move with a nimbleness that few groups can match.