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Elliott CARTER (b.1908)
Mosaic (2005) [11:56]
Scrivo in Vento (1991) [5:32]
Gra (1993) [4:18]
Enchanted Preludes (1988) [6:00]
Steep Steps (2001) [2:40]
Figment No 1 (1994) [6:16]
Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi (1984) [5:51]
Figment No 2 (Remembering Mr Ives) (2001) [3:58]
Rhapsodic Musings (1999) [3:14]
Dialogues (2004) [14:14]
Interview with the composer [22.06]
Live performances: Mosaic [12.48] Dialogues [15.13]
New Music Concerts Ensemble/Robert Aitken (director, flute), Max Christie (clarinet), David Hetherington (cello), Virgil Blackwell (bass clarinet), Fujiko Imajishi (violin), David Swan (piano)
rec. 28 May 2006, Gelnn Gould Studio, Toronto, Canada, 27 May 2006, 16 October 2007, 14 December 2007, 18 December 2007, The Church of St George the Martyr, Toronto, Canada. DDD
NAXOS 8.559614 [64:50] + 2.110257 [51:07]
Experience Classicsonline

This Naxos release features chamber music by Elliott Carter as part of the American Classics series, to coincide with Carter’s 100th birthday. Containing a selection of works, from ensembles to solo instrumental, the disc demonstrates part of the range of Carter’s compositional output.

Mosaic is for solo harp and an ensemble of seven players, written as a tribute to the harpist Carlos Salzedo and commissioned by the Nash Ensemble. It is made up of many small fragments which slot together in the style of a Mosaic. Erica Goodman’s harp playing is impressive throughout, with a polished ensemble providing support and colour.

The solo works feature various instruments, beginning with Robert Aitken playing Scrivo in Vento for solo flute, which was dedicated to him. Aitken is well established as a champion of new music and his performance has both elegance and a sense of understanding, with the multiphonics well executed and a strong sense of melodic direction. Based on a poem by Petrarch, the piece uses extremes of pitch and rapid contrasts of playing style. Gra for solo clarinet is a playful work with dexterous energy, composed for Lutoslawski’s eightieth birthday. Max Christie’s playing impresses with its lightness of touch and sonorous tone.

The Enchanted Preludes are a six minute duo for flute and cello. Carter packs much into the work’s short duration and it has a grander sense of scale than one would expect from a miniature. The material is organized as a set of short interlinked sections which challenge and sparkle. The short bass clarinet solo, Steep Steps was composed in 2001 and is a true miniature, with a duration of under three minutes. The piece features leaps of a twelfth - based on the bass clarinet’s overtone series - and serves as an enjoyable character study of the instrument.

The solo cello features in the two Figments, with the first of the two pieces composed in 1994 and the second in 2001 with the subtitle Remembering Mr Ives. The two pieces complement each other well, with the second perhaps a little more subdued than the first, quoting fragments of music from Charles Ives. Carter’s cello writing is resonant and expressive, and as with his other instrumental solos, he seems to elicit a sense of the instrument’s character through the music. David Hetherington performs with delicacy and exuberance in equal measure, giving life to the music and possessing a richness of tone which is a pleasure to listen to.

Fujiko Imajishi’s performance of the Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi is expressive and poignant. Written for Petrassi’s eightieth birthday celebrations, the piece features long static lines interspersed with flashes of sound and flowing lines. The stillness has a dramatic effect, especially within the context of the complexity of some of Carter’s other works, and there is a sense of contemplation in the performance. The second solo violin work, Rhapsodic Musings was written for Robert Mann and features his initials in the musical material.

The final work on the disc is the longest and uses the largest instrumental forces. Dialogues is almost orchestral in its scale, using eighteen players in addition to a solo piano. Composed for Nicolas Hodges, the title of the work comes from the interaction between the soloist and ensemble, with a sense of discourse, reaction and interruption. This is an engaging and nimble work, and Robert Aitken’s ensemble is polished throughout. David Swan’s piano playing is both technically impressive and musically sensitive, giving a performance which is meaningful and controlled.

The disc comes paired with a fascinating DVD which features an interview with Elliott Carter conducted during a visit to Toronto in 2006. Robert Aitken also provides wonderful insights into Carter’s music, making this DVD worth the price of the disc alone.

This is a fantastic product, with world class recordings of Carter’s music. Robert Aitken’s work with the New Music Concerts ensemble is of an extremely high standard, demonstrating an excellent understanding of the composer.

Carla Rees

see also review by Gary Higginson  

Reviews of other Carter recordings on Naxos



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