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Elliott CARTER (b. 1908)
Three Occasions for Orchestra (1987) [15:59]  
Violin Concerto (1989) [25:45]  
Concerto for Orchestra (1969) [22:29]  
Ole Böhn (violin)
London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen
rec. February 1991, Henry Wood Hall, London (Violin Concerto, Concerto for Orchestra), June 1991, Blackheath Concert Halls, London (Three Occasions)
EMI CLASSICS 2066292 [63:13]  


Experience Classicsonline

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. 

Terry Barfoot 

see also Review by Rob Barnett


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