long composing life is remarkable; all the more so because
most of his major works were written when he was well in
his forties. His mature style may be said to have emerged
with the First String Quartet (1951), in which he explores
musical realms light years away from his earlier works such
as Pocahontas (1939), Symphony No.1
(1944, rev. 1961), the Holiday Overture (1944,
rev. 1961) and The Minotaur (1947). Carter
kept (and keeps) expanding his technical and expressive
palette throughout his later composing life. He is continuously
asking new questions and providing new answers. The imposing
Variations for Orchestra, composed in 1955-1956
and revised in 1967, is one of his first major achievements.
The composer displays a remarkable resourcefulness and invention
as well as a formidable orchestral mastery in what is a
radical, but by no means intractable piece. As with so many
of Carter’s later works it generously repays repeated hearings.
It is an impressive work, of which James Levine conducts
a vital, energetic and most convincing reading likely to
earn Carter new admirers.
Bamboula pays tribute to Louis Moreau Gottschalk.
Be aware though, there is not a single overtly Caribbean
connotation in this virile, tightly knit twelve-tone study
for strings. In any event it receives a strongly committed
reading here. I admit knowing very little of Wuorinen’s
music, but this fine performance will have me looking forward
to hearing more.
was a most distinguished composer and a highly respected
pedagogue; but his uncompromising, often austere and reticent
music does not easily yield up its secrets. Exceptions may
be heard in Black Maskers (1928), the powerfully
lyrical Violin Concerto (1935) and in the
Piano Concerto (1955/6), the latter new to
me. The Piano Concerto is in three movements following the
traditional pattern. The first movement opens Tranquillo
before moving into a robust Allegro. This is followed
by a straightforward (i.e. by Sessions’ standards) Adagio
of great beauty. The concerto ends with a mighty, energetic
Toccata. This represents a most welcome addition to Sessions’
discography; has it ever been recorded before? The welcome
is all the warmer because this is a quite accessible piece
by a reputedly “difficult” composer. Taub and Levine obviously
relish every minute.
Should I tell
you that I had never heard di Domenica’s name and music
before receiving this disc? His only symphony (to date)
was written when he was a composition student of Arnold
Schmid, himself a student of Schoenberg and Berg, between
1952 and 1962. It is a compact work in three movements cast
in a mildly serial idiom and based on the eleven-note chromatic
passage heard at the beginning of the development of Mozart’s
Symphony No.40 in G minor KV550 to which di
Domenica just adds the missing twelfth note. The row is
then worked out with considerable invention and imagination
in a most convincing and musically satisfying way. A most
welcome rarity. Now, I really wonder what does his later
music sound like.
I suppose that
these pieces must have been quite unfamiliar to the orchestra.
Most of them are really not easy at all, but Levine leads
his players with a sure hand throughout and delivers highly
rewarding results. These performances, drawn from the archives
of the Münchner Philharmoniker, were recorded live; but
you hardly notice it, were it not for a few isolated coughs
and some extraneous noises. What comes clearly through,
however, is the attention paid by the audience to these
unfamiliar works. This – to my mind – says lots about the
quality of the performances.