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COMPOSERS: Elliot Carter
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Interventions; Dialogues; Dialogues II; Soundings; Two Controversies and a Conversation; Instances; Epigrams
PERFORMER: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano); Colin Currie (percussion), Isabelle Faust (violin), Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello); Birmingham Contemporary Music Group; BBC Symphony Orchestra/Oliver Knussen


A composer’s late works can become imbued after their death with a poignancy not always reflected by the music itself. In the case of Elliott Carter (1908-2012), while his loss remains keen, the late works seem more an occasion for celebration than sorrow. Indeed, astonishment seems the most natural response to the seven pieces in this retrospective; five recorded for the first time, and each not merely composed between the ages of 90 and 100-plus, but brimming with youthful energy and Haydnesque, impish wit.  

Carter makes no concession to post-1960s trends away from complex dissonance, and maintains a fiercely idiosyncratic rigour of form and language. Yet his polyphony of rhythms, pitches and pulses is less dense than hitherto, and an emphasis on long, arching string lines lends surprising lyricism to his trademark antiphonal instrumental groupings. The title Dialogues – a piano concerto, echoed by the later Dialogues II – could serve as collective descriptor, since each work features a dialectical tussle between its various players, and between its contrasting kinds of material.

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Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard brings fluent delicacy to the concertos (including Interventions) and the orchestral Soundings. He is matched in filigree precision by co-protagonists, percussionist Colin Currie (Two Controversies and a Conversation), and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group under conductor, Oliver Knussen. Carter’s very last, centenarian works – Instances and the piano trio, Epigrams, the latter marvellously played by Aimard with violinist Isabelle Faust and cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras – prove concise, poetic and delightfully mischievous as ever. 


Steph Power