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Editorial Board
Classical Editor
Rob Barnett
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
   Stan Metzger
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

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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 (1945-6) [23:31]
Two Thoughts About the Piano (2005-6) [10:55]
Ursula Oppens (piano)
rec. 4-8 Feb 2008, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York. DDD
CEDILLE CDR90000 108 [70:53]
Experience Classicsonline

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 throughout.

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.

Carla Rees

see also review by Jonathan Woolf 




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