Collection: A Nonesuch Retrospective

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Carter
LABELS: Nonesuch
WORKS: A Nonesuch Retrospective: Piano Sonata; Dust of Snow; The Rose Family; The Minotaur; Elegy for String Orchestra; Cello Sonata; String Quartets Nos 1 & 2; Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello & Harpsichord; Variations for Orchestra; Double Concerto; Night Fantasies; Triple Duo; In Sleep, In Thunder
PERFORMER: Jan DeGaetani (soprano), Martyn Hill (tenor), Joel Krosnick (cello), Gilbert Kalish, Paul Jacobs (piano); Composers Quartet; Contemporary Chamber Ensemble; New York Chamber Symphony; Los Angeles CO/Gerard Schwarz; Chicago SO/James Levine; London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen etc
CATALOGUE NO: 510893-2

Advertisement

This chronological four-disc survey of what we have come to think of as Elliott Carter’s middle period, from his mid thirties to his early seventies, is not comprehensive: there is a long gap between the Double Concerto (1961) and Night Fantasies (1980), during which he composed his Piano Concerto, Concerto for Orchestra, String Quartet No. 3, A Symphony of Three Orchestras and other substantial pieces.

Nor is it entirely drawn from Nonesuch’s own back catalogue: James Levine’s recording of the Variations for Orchestra (1955) with the Chicago SO has been brought in from DG. Even more oddly, Carter’s Duo for Violin and Piano (1974), of which Nonesuch did release the first recording, has been excluded for some reason.

That said, there is some valuable material here – not least from two much admired artists cut off far too soon. Jan DeGaetani’s intimate mezzo is only to be heard in the slightly cute pair of Robert Frost settings from 1942 in Carter’s early Americanist manner. But Paul Jacobs’s accounts of the pandiatonic Piano Sonata (1946) and the darkly troubled Night Fantasies (1980) offer convincing alternatives to the sweep of Charles Rosen’s definitive readings – less grand, perhaps, but more thoughtfully nuanced.

Included, too, are the fine recordings of the Cello Sonata (1948), and the volatile Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello and Harpsichord (1952). These intent and finely focused readings of the first two string quartets (1951 and 1959) by The Composer’s Quartet, also played a vital part in extending Carter’s reputation when they first appeared around 1970 with extensive sleeve notes of his own – though now challenged by The Pacifica Quartet’s well-characterised Grammy-Award-winning two-disc cycle of all five Carter quartets on Naxos.

Of the orchestral scores, Gerard Schwartz offers the only recording to date of the complete score of Carter’s Stravinskian ballet The Minotaur (1947) – a third longer than the occasionally performed suite, but annoyingly recycled here at a lower dynamic level than the rest of the disc. Still, Levine’s account of the Variations for Orchestra has the sweep of conviction, and Weisberg’s handling of the intricate Double Concerto is as finely detailed as any.

Advertisement

The recording of the mercurial Triple Duo (1982) preserves the liveliness of the long-gone Fires of London (for once, not playing music by its director Maxwell Davies), while Carter’s turbulent Robert Lowell cycle In Sleep, In Thunder under Oliver Knussen remains strong as ever. Bayan Northcott