Charles Ives’ first three symphonies […] chart a steady musical progress from unexceptional Brahmsian classicism to a more exuberant, quintessentially American idiom. But nothing in those works prepares the listener for the Fourth Symphony, which Ives worked on from 1912 until the mid-1920s. It represents a leap into the unknown, into a musical world without safety nets and mostly lacking the gravitational pull of tonality.
Ives’ personal brand of modernism was concerned only incidentally with the hierarchies of harmony that so obsessed Schoenberg, and not at all with the emancipation of rhythm that Stravinsky promoted. His vision was one of inclusiveness, which made no distinction between high art and the vernacular; between what is familiar, sometimes banal, and what can be very strange indeed. The fourth Symphony communicates that vision more powerfully than Ives’ other works; it is his masterpiece, a landmark in 20th century music. Although it was not performed complete until 1954, any performance still packs a disquieting power.
The performance of the Fourth is rightly the pinnacle of Litton’s superb Ives cycle […]. Litton has the work’s measure perfectly, balancing the visionary with the prosaic, and teasing out the most complex textures of a huge orchestra and a chorus with an exemplary clarity that is flawlessly captured by the recording.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 10/6/2006