Monday, January 27, 2014

Elliott Carter: Eight Compositions (1948-1993)

This excellent disc from Bridge Records came out in 1994 in commemoration of composer Elliott Carter's 85th birthday.  At the time, it was reasonable to assume that Carter's long career would soon come to a natural close, but he lived for almost two more decades, passing away in November 2012, a month shy of his 104th birthday.

Eight Compositions (1948-1993) is a diverse and exciting overview of works for solos, duos, and trios and shows a great range of compositional formats and elements, from solo pieces for clarinet, flute, violin, and, unusually, guitar and some shorter pieces, including these solo works, to longer compositions, including the fine piano and violin duet "Duo" and the fantastic early work, 1948's "Sonata for Violoncello and Piano."

The performers from The Group for Contemporary Music, founded by pianist Charles Wuorinen and flautist Harvey Sollberger, who appear on the recording, are uniformly excellent and include Fred Sherry, a cellist whose work on John Zorn recordings is prominent; clarinetist Charles Neidich, whose rendering of "Gra" opens the album nicely; Rolf Schulte, violin, who is on three pieces; Martin Goldray, also on piano on the aforementioned "Duo"; and guitarist David Starobin, whose showcase, "Changes" was written for him by Carter and who founded and still leads the Bridge label with his wife Becky, executive producer of this disc.

Filling 78 and 1/2 minutes, the album is a phenomenal overview of forty-five years of Carter' diverse portfolio of contemporary classical music.  The liners by David Schiff include a concise summary in one paragraph of Carter's composing philosophy, including the observation that the music "often suggests an argument, sometimes between many parties, at other times an internal dialogue."  With the composer's polyphonic approach, this is an interesting way to interpret the music, especially the basic concept of dialogue, with instruments speaking to one another and/or to the audience.

For something this modern, there is still lyricism, soulfulness, emotive expression, and accessibility to so much of what Carter has composed, even if approaches to harmony, rhythm, and time reflect experimentation that mark his music as quite different from earlier composers.  Certainly, listening to Carter's music through the solo, duet and trio forms helps isolate the qualities noted above, which can be more difficult with larger ensembles and orchestral settings.

Eight Compositions (1948-1993) is, in any case, a great listening experience, representing a broad overview of pieces from a true American original.

Elliott Carter:  Eight Compositions (1948-1993) (Bridge Records, 1994)

1.  Gra  4:35
2.  Enchanted Preludes  6:30
3.  Duo  21:27
4.  Scrivo in Vento  5:55
5.  Changes  7:46
6.  Con Leggerezza Pensosa (Ommagio a Italo Calvino)  5:17
7.  Riconoscenza por Goffredo Petrassi  6:30
8.  Sonata for Violoncello and Piano  19:55

P.S.--though this blogger doesn't own any of his records, a recent flipping of the channels late at night came across a documentary on Pete Seeger, who died today at 94.  May he rest in peace. 

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