Collection: American Orchestral Music

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COMPOSERS: Elliott Carter
WORKS: Variations for Orchestra; Spectra;Correspondences; Atlas eclipticalis
PERFORMER: Chicago SO/James Levine


The real meat in this important collection of Americana of the Fifties and Sixties is provided by Elliott Carter’s Variations for Orchestra – a synoptic work which absorbs 20th-century stylistic traits as disparate as those of Schoenberg and Berg on the one hand, and Ives and Conlon Nancarrow on the other.

At the same time, Carter never loses sight of his characteristic preoccupation with notions of acceleration and deceleration. Texturally, the Variations are actually a good deal more straightforward than most of his music – they were originally commissioned by one of America’s lesser orchestras (the Louisville Symphony).

The Chicago Symphony, needless to say, is a virtuoso band and gave memorable performances of the work under Solti in years gone by. Levine’s account, if not quite in that class, will do very well. For the rest, Schuller’s Spectra is a spatially, if not always subtly, conceived piece; Babbitt’s Correspondences pits a string orchestra against a synthesised electronic tape.


The pointillist whisperings of John Cage’s Atlas eclipticalis were graphically derived from an astronomical atlas, and the piece can be played simultaneously with the composer’s Winter Music if the conductor so chooses (Levine doesn’t). First-class performances and recording throughout. Misha Donat