This disc, skilfully recorded by Ursula Oppens, contains the
complete piano music of Elliott Carter, released in tribute
to the composer’s 100th birthday.
The strong opening work, 90+, with its coruscating fast passages
and characterful melodic material, was composed in celebration
of Goffredo Petrassi’s 90th birthday. Carter
and Petrassi became friends while Carter was a member of the
American Academy in Rome, and this work is a fitting tribute,
which contains much in its five minute duration. Other miniatures
feature on this disc, such as the minute and a half Retrouvailles, and
the world premiere recording of the 2007 work Matribute,
both of which are perfectly formed within their short durations. Matribute’s
sparse textures are made up of fragmented melodies, which build
steadily until the flowing movement at the end of the work.
The 1980 work, Night Fantasies is the first major work
on the disc, commissioned jointly by pianists Paul Jacobs,
Ursula Oppens, Charles Rosen and Gilbert Kalish. The work has
changing moods and atmospheres, with still, quiet moments interrupted
by splashes of sound and violent outbursts. This is a darkly
expressive work which Oppens performs with restless energy
and flowing lines.
The Two Diversions are two short movements which are
technically more simple than much of Carter’s output,
but are nonetheless musically agile. The first is expressive
and slow-paced, with a sense of space between the gestures.
The second movement is more angular, with a wonderful sense
of completeness in its structure.
The other major work in Carter’s output for piano is
the Sonata of 1945-6, in two movements lasting a total of nearly
25 minutes. A highly convincing work, the Maestoso opening
quickly gives way to scurrying movement, before an impressive
chorale-style section returns, based on strong pedal notes
and harmonies created through the pitches from their resonances.
The opening movement has a clarity of form, based on traditional
Sonata Form. The second movement is a fugue, displaying Carter’s
interest in creating technical as well as musical challenges
for his performers. This is an excellent performance that convinces
Two Thoughts about the Piano begins with the work Intermittences,
which makes expressive use of silences as well as rapidly flowing
bundles of notes. This is an exciting work combining poignant
moments with unpredictable bursts of energy. The second movement, Caténaires was
composed in 2006, and is a thrilling toccata-style movement
composed in a single line without chords. The uninterrupted
line of semiquavers implies its own harmony and creates tensions
and release in its phrasing. This is a spectacular performance
that brings out both the drama and the expression in Carter’s
technically challenging writing.
Oppens has had an association with Carter’s music for
most of her career, and on this disc the musicality of his
style comes to the fore. This is expressive music, composed
in a modernist language, and Oppens draws out the poetic nature
of the writing, performing with a true understanding of the
composer’s intent. She is technically in complete control
throughout and even plays with a sense of relaxed ease. The
piano sound is crisp and well articulated, and there is a warmth
of sound that appeals. An excellent recording, with informative
sleeve notes by Bayan Northcott.
see also review by Jonathan