Having studied with important figures who included Nadia Boulanger
and Walter Piston, Elliott Carter went on to become not only one
of the longest-lived of composers, but also one of the prime innovators
in the music of our time. His music is particularly characterised
by explorations of tempo relationships and texture, in which contrast
he is a true master of the orchestra. His standing was acknowledged
in January 2006 when the BBC Symphony Orchestra presented a series
of concerts of his music at the Barbican Hall in London. Carter has also received formal
recognition from many American and European institutions, including
two Pulitzer Prizes, and was described by Aaron Copland as ‘one
of America’s most distinguished creative
artists in any field’.
Carter’s music has been championed by many
distinguished musicians, among whom Oliver Knussen rates highly.
This enterprising programme was recorded in 1991 in excellent
sound, allowing the orchestra to be heard to maximum effect
in all the featured pieces. This is important, since attention
to orchestral detail plays such an important role in the musical
experience. Previously issued on Virgin Classics (as CDC59271)
this reissue returns some fine performances to the catalogue.
The Three Occasions developed out
of an initial commission for a fanfare to celebrate the 150th
anniversary of the state of Texas in 1987. In due course this
became the first Occasion, entitled A Celebration,
followed by Remembrance, in memoriam Paul Fromm, a noted
patron of the arts, and Anniversary, acknowledging the
composer’s own 50th wedding anniversary. The idea
of adding the two additional movements to the original ones
came from Oliver Knussen, adding an extra dimension of interest
to his performance of these subtle pieces.
Like many composers of his time Carter has
consistently shown an interest in sustaining the traditions
of music’s important genres. Thus the concerto form has played
an important part in his creative life, both in solo and ensemble
contexts. The three linked movements of the Violin Concerto
of 1989 allow an almost unbroken line for the soloist, whose
lyricism is generally set against a restrained orchestral accompaniment.
Ole Böhn is a dedicated soloist, creating the impression that
the music is in his head rather than his head in the music.
The skilful balancing of solo and ensemble makes life relatively
easy for the recording engineers; there seems little need for
solo spotlighting in this concerto.
Perhaps the finest of these pieces is the
Concerto for Orchestra. It’s an unfortunate omission that Martin
Cotton’s insert note doesn’t give the details behind its composition,
or even its date. Written for the 125th anniversary
of the New York Philharmonic in 1969, the creative impulse was
associated with the poem Winds by the French poet St John Perse.
Beyond that the music is wholly idiosyncratic, often with a
sense of perpetual motion both horizontal and vertical: in other
words with a constantly changing texture. Again the recorded
sound allows these issues to be experienced and the new EMI
version maintains the standards of the original.
see also Review
by Rob Barnett