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Elliott CARTER (b.1908)
Holiday Overture (1944 rev. 1961) [9.40]
Symphony No. 1 (1942 rev. 1954) [29.05]
Piano Concerto (1964-65) [23.46]
Mark Wait (piano)
Nashville Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Schermerhorn
rec. Blair School of Music, Nashville, Tennessee, 15 Sept 2002, 27 Oct 2002
NAXOS 8.559151 [62.43]

Good things continue to come from the Nashville connection with Naxos. The latest presents Carter the doyen of avant-garde discontinuity alongside Carter the young blood of the American outdoors tradition.

Holiday Overture is cheeky and cheery, happy and airy. Much to your surprise if you have been off-put by his Symphony for Three Orchestras (1977) and most of his music from the 1960s you will find this on all fours with Copland (Outdoor Overture), Robert Ward and Randall Thompson (Second Symphony). The strings rage with Tippett-like ecstasy (7.12) and while the melodic material leaves little in the memory it is all agreeably confident ebullience.

His wartime Symphony No. 1 is in three movements. The idiom is much the same as the overture. After a movement that celebrates the graces with an easy drawl the second seems to be a frontiersman's prayer with the trumpet taking the part of the modest orator (4.55). After the serene glowing close of the ‘prayer’ we are pitched into a vivacious finale at first dominated by the silvery blade of the violins which then playfully toss rhythmic convulsions around the orchestra. This is closer to the joie de vivre of Thompson and perhaps Prokofiev 7 than to the then contemporary epics such as Schuman 3 and Copland 3. For all that this piece is for chamber orchestra the Symphony sounds 'big'.

The Piano Concerto is dedicated to Stravinsky. It was written two decades after the Overture and is squarely in Carter's accustomed astringent style - a radical contrast with his 1940s self. Fragmentation, shudders, momentary flashes of light and interruptions, splenetic wrestling and assault, discontinuous layers and strata without obvious articulation are the order of the day. I cannot imagine many people who like the first two works finding much to warm them in the Concerto.

Wait is Dean and Piano Professor at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee. He has been the pianist in a performance of Carter's Double Concerto for piano and harpsichord in 1989 at Alice Tully Hall.

As a chronologically proportionate selection this fails. So much of Carter is in 1970s avant-garde style. However as a portrait of Carter as he was at the start and as he became this is excellent. Performances seem fine especially in the Concerto. More polish was apparent in the recording of the Symphony made in the 1980s by Paul Dunkel and the American Composers Orchestra. Certainly it has more colour and vitality than the old mono LP recording by the Louisville Orchestra and Robert Whitney (LOU 611). Still this remains enjoyable in the extreme and will especially please those on the lookout for lyric-convulsive Americana of the 1940s. Next the complete Pocahontas ballet (the source of the Symphony's material) and The Minotaur, please.

Rob Barnett


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