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Elliott CARTER (b. 1908)
Homages and Dedications

Luimen ‘for the Nieuw Ensemble’ (1997)
Scrivo in vento ‘for Robert Aitken’ (1991)
Con leggerezza pensosa – Omaggio a Italo Calvino (1990)
Changes ‘for David Starobin’ (1983)
Esprit rude, Esprit doux II ‘for Pierre Boulez’ (1994)
Bariolage ‘for Ursula Holliger’ (1992)
Inner Song ‘for Heinz Holliger’ In memory of Stefan Wolpe (1992)
Immer Neu ‘for Ursula and Heinz Hollinger’ (1992)
Gra ‘for Witold Lutosławski’ (1993)
Enchanted preludes ‘for Santen’s birthday’ (1988)
90+ ‘for Goffredo Petrassi’ (1993)
Canon for 4 – Homage to William ‘for Sir William Glock’ (1984)
Nieuw Ensemble/Ed Spanjaard
Recorded in October and December 1994 in Zyfflich, Köln, Funkhaus, Kleiner Sendesaal, Germany and in October 1999 in Maria Minor Church, Utrecht, Netherlands DDD

Elliott Carter is one of the masters of contemporary composition: a constructivist composer whose highly intellectual works are both award-winning and critically acclaimed. Collected on this disc are many of his works that he wrote either in tribute to or as a vehicle for other musicians throughout his long and storied career, performed by the Nieuw Ensemble. Like much of his work, these pieces are complex, abstract, and highly academic in nature, but as each of these works were written with different people in mind, the instrumentation is widely varied and stylistically distinct. He puts his stamp on works for instrumentation as different as solo clarinet and an ensemble consisting of mandolin, guitar, harp, vibraphone, trumpet, and trombone. The varied instrumentation allows for an interesting variety where one could become inured due to the driven intellectualism that pervades Carter’s brand of musical constructions.

His guitar works presented are very intelligent and, as they use the guitar in very non-traditional ways, quite interesting. As he is not a guitar player by nature or by training, but did learn how to read and write guitar tablature in order to see what is endemic to the instrument, he brings freshness to these works that is quite unexpected. Unlike the American Minimalists, such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass, these works are built without static repetition as the construction vehicle. Instead they are through-composed with each instrument operating independently inside of the constructed constraints, which causes interesting interactions that are brought out when the performers are meticulous and talented enough to show the composer’s intended purpose.

The Nieuw Ensemble is well suited to the task, with a collection of plucked instrumentalists at its core. The lack of literature for mandolin, guitar, harp, and percussion has historically caused it to rely on commissioned composition. Many of these works were written specifically for this group, and where they were not the other musicians (such as Boulez) were often familiar with the group and had been in contact with them at different times. They do an excellent job of interpreting these largely cerebral works and infusing them with sensitivity, compassion, and understanding. So often when performers are given works of this nature they mechanically go through the motions rather than exploring the emotions that are bound inside of these works. Without musicians of this caliber and bent, this type of music would never be given air. Carter should be grateful for the treatment he receives.

The liner notes may be the most interesting part of this collection, as they include an interview with the composer where he describes the motivations behind each work, including which pieces were written for players and which were written in homage. It includes where he gets his tone rows when appropriate, such as when he describes his musical rendering of the name "Boulez" in his work Esprit rude, Esprit doux II. As much of his work is often best understood only when viewed through the eyes and ears of the intellectual, and not simply through the ears of the casual listener, this interview aids in both the enjoyment and understanding of these works.

While this album is certainly not for the casual listener, very little of Elliott Carter’s music would be in any other category. He will never be given the mass popularity of Beethoven or Stravinsky. This disc is a good example of his small-group works, and performed in an exacting and methodical way. If you are a fan of contemporary composition, atonal works or esoteric intellectual works, then you will adore this album. It is Elliott Carter’s work presented as it was intended.

Patrick Gary



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