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Download: Classicsonline


Elliott CARTER (b.1908)
90+ (1994) [4:55]
Retrouvailles (2000) [1:38]
Night Fantasies (1980) [19:48]
Two Diversions (1999) [7:28]
Matribute (2007) [2:05]
Piano Sonata (1945-46) [23:25]
Two Thoughts About the Piano (2005-06) [10:55]
Ursula Oppens (piano)
rec. American Academy of Arts and Letters, NYC, February 2008 


Experience Classicsonline

Given Carter’s still fertile imagination the claim that this represents the ‘complete’ piano music may retrospectively turn out to be slightly wide of the mark. But it’s certainly the complete piano music, as published, and as things stand now (late 2008). Two of the pianists most closely associated with his music for the instrument are Charles Rosen, who has recorded it with great authority, and Ursula Oppens, who has similarly done so in the past – she set down a splendid Night Fantasies, issued by Music and Arts [CD4862] alongside music by Sahl, Bolcom and Nancarrow for instance. And now Oppens enters the arena again with this more closely focused disc, excellently recorded and annotated – and, not least, played.

She evinces a masterly control of articulation in 90+ and just listen to how those scurrying beats that end the work are deliciously exciting – not a phrase one would expect to read of Carter’s music, perhaps.  Retrouvailles employs a motto on Pierre Boulez’s name; it’s a powerfully and densely argued piece of writing and one realises at the end, and with considerable surprise, that only ninety eight second have elapsed. The abrupt contrasts of the Night Fantasies prove winning in this newer performance by Oppens. The anxious, persistent oscillation in this work, the abrupt disjunctions, are pointed with astuteness by her, and nor does she stint the work’s more painterly qualities, fractious and volatile though they may be.

The Two Diversions date from 1999 and exploit the potential for divergent tempi in both hands though Matribute arguably makes its point with more concision. The Piano Sonata is, like Night Fantasies, one of two big works here. This is one of his early masterpieces, a two-movement work inspired by Ives, cognisant of Copland, yet utterly fearless in its own vocabulary. The ‘modern Scarlatti’ sound that booklet writer Bayan Northcott advances can be heard without too much straining; so too the jubilant drive of a work that feasts on contrasts of colour, timbre and time signatures; the playing off of right and left hands at a slow tempi is especially well done in this performance.

To round off the programme we have a nervous and unpredictable Two Thoughts About the Piano, which is, with the exception of Matribute (2007), the most recently written work in the programme.

Given the foregoing this has very strong claims on Carter adherents, though they will be aware that Charles Rosen’s older, almost identically titled disc, offers corresponding authority [Bridge 9090].

Jonathan Woolf



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