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Documents of the Munich Years Vol. 2
Elliott CARTER
(b. 1908)
Variations for Orchestra (1954/5, rev. 1967) [23:56]
Charles WUORINEN (b. 1938)
Grand Bamboula (1971) [6:38]
Roger SESSIONS (1896–1985)
Piano Concerto (1955/6)a [20:44]
Robert DI DOMENICA (b. 1927)
Symphony (1961) [19:44]
Robert Taub (piano)a;
Münchner Philharmoniker/James Levine
rec. Philharmonie im Gasteig, München, February 2002 and September 2003


Elliott Carter’s 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.

Wuorinen’s Grand 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.

Roger Sessions 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.

Hubert Culot







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