Music of Elliott Carter – Vol 8

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: E Carter
LABELS: Bridge
WORKS: Complete Music, Vol. 8: Wind Rose; Horn Concerto†; Mad Regales; Titinnabulation; Sound Fields; On Conversing with Paradise; Clarinet Quintet*; La Musique; Due Duetti; Poems of Louis Zukofsky etc
PERFORMER: Lucy Shelton (soprano), Leigh Melrose (baritone); *Charles Neidich (clarinet); †Martin Owen (horn); BBC SO, BCMG/Oliver Knussen; New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble/Frank Epstein; Juilliard Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 9314A/B

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What kind of music might one expect from a man in his nineties? Something mild, austere, full of summatory wisdom – these are the clichés that spring to mind, but they’re banished by the very first sound on this double CD-set. The Horn Concerto begins with an obstreperous attack, and ends with an equally brazen gesture. Carter’s all-percussion piece Tintinnabulation similarly fizzes with energy.

The Ezra Pound setting, On Conversing with Paradise, is surprising in a different way. It has this revealing line:  ‘I have tried to write paradise… Do not move, let the wind speak, that is paradise.’ This hint that artistic endeavour is vain, and that the truest revelation comes from the world itself seems to touch a raw nerve in Carter. The setting seems angry. 

Other surprises include Sound Fields for string orchestra, which recalls Feldman in its slow, muffled overlapping chords, as does its wind-orchestra twin Wind Rose. But in another sense all these pieces do in fact possess the ‘summatory wisdom’ one expects.

Textures are pared down to their essence, a quality exemplified in the abundance of perfectly turned little miniatures for one or two instruments including a song-cycle for soprano and clarinet.

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All these things, whether tiny and serene or big-boned and impassioned, are performed with touching care by starry performers gathered on both sides of the Atlantic. Among them, the clarinettist Charles Neidlich and cellist Fred Sherry stand out, reminding us that a theatrically vivid performance is what really brings this music alive. Ivan Hewett