Elliott Carter

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ALBUM TITLE: Elliott Carter
WORKS: Duettino; Figment IV; Mnemosyne; String Trio; Rigmarole; Bariolage; Trije glasbeniki; Double Trio; Retracing; Figment V; Hiyoku; A Sunbeam’s Architecture
PERFORMER: Rolf Schulte (violin); Fred Sherry (cello); Richard O’Neill (viola); Stephen Gosling (piano); Nicholas Phan (tenor); Ryan McAdams (conductor) et al


Surely no other composer has attended their 103rd birthday concert in person, far less one that included the world premieres of four works written since he turned 102. Elliott Carter had come to seem indestructible, his stream of wise and witty later-than-late works unstoppable. This DVD memorialises the 8 December 2011 concert at New York’s 92nd Street Y that featured a dozen mainly short works, principally solos or duos, all performed by top-class performers closely associated with his music. Even at 103 Carter presented a spry, puckish figure, and ‘spry’ seems the right epithet for the music – alert, capricious, fiercely concentrated. The most recent pieces were still exploring the polarities of activity and stasis, strong dissonance and the arching, eloquent line, the music’s innate poetry plucked, it seems, from the air.

With so many exemplary performances of this fundamentally challenging music it seems invidious to single out individuals, but tribute must be paid to the imperturbable cello playing of Fred Sherry (the concert’s organiser); the eloquence of Rolf Schulte’s violin, not only in his solo Mnemosyne but as chief line-carrier in the second biggest work here, the fizzing Double Trio.

The concert’s culmination is the world premiere of the EE Cummings song cycle A Sunbeam’s Architecture for tenor (Nicholas Phan) and ensemble (conductor Ryan McAdams). Its final number has lyricism, dignity and weight that seems emblematic of Carter’s output as a whole.

As a bonus five British composers – George Benjamin, Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr, Oliver Knussen, Colin Matthews – offer memories of and tributes to Carter, evidence of the great affection in which he was held, and the lasting impact of his music on the generations who came after him. 


Calum MacDonald