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American Classics: Elliott Carter CD

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9382a6f0) out of 5 stars 5 reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x93860fcc) out of 5 stars Outstanding Carter Album 10 July 2008
By Mark Newkirk - Published on
Format: Audio CD
EMI Classics presents three Carter works, over an hour of the most difficult music imaginable, brilliantly played and recorded. This inexpensive collection is a great opportunity to listen to and gain an understanding of Carter's challenging music.
The Three Occasions for Orchestra are a good introduction to Carter's sound world. The pieces are relatively short, so they are less of a strain on the attention span than the big pieces that follow.
Carter's Violin Concerto sounds very much like a rhythmically freer version of Schoenberg's great Violin Concerto (listening to the two successively or alternating movements is very revealing). This is Carter at his most European, classical and accessible. Which is still to say very international, modern and difficult.
The Concerto for Orchestra brings us back to the American Carter, taking us on an exhausting journey, a universe of sound in only twenty minutes. Together with Carter's String Quartet No. 3, this piece represents most clearly Carter's ideal of creating a music of individual characters expressing themselves individually and in a free dialogue. This is not freedom like some patriotic slogan. This is the kind of hair-raising, where-do-we-go-from-here freedom that we instinctively fear but that we can come to hold dear. In other words, be ready to be confused, enraged, excited, disappointed and maybe even thrilled on a sonic journey that reveals something new at every listening.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9482c624) out of 5 stars "Great winds of change, destruction, and renewal..." 18 Oct. 2008
By Autonomeus - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Thanks to EMI for reissuing this best recording of Carter's CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA (1969), originally released on the Virgin label. Commissioned by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, their original recording failed to do justice to this fantastically complex work. The CONCERTO features four groups of instruments, each proceeding at a different tempo through the work, one of the best examples of this dynamic structural innovation in Carter's oeuvre.

Carter supervised the 1991 recording by the London Sinfonietta, led by Oliver Knussen, and unlike the other available recordings, it is separated into six tracks which facilitates careful listening. Knussen's interpretation is Boulezian, revealing every detail of the score, in contrast to Michael Gielen's recording of a year later leading the SWR Sinfonieorchester (see my review), which is more lush and romantic, with more powerful tutti passages, but which misses some of the rich complexity.

First performed in 1970, the CONCERTO reflects the turmoil of the times. Bayan Northcott in the liner notes describes the composition as "a large structure as a kind of vortex of interacting forces." The "great winds" quote above refers to the poem "Vents" which was an inspiration for the piece. With his CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA Carter created one of the most powerful and distinctive orchestral works of the late 20th century.

"Three Occasions for Orchestra" and the "Violin Concerto" are more recent compositions from the late 1980s, and both are superb. While neither is as stunning as the CONCERTO, they work perfectly here in creating a diverse and absolutely compelling set of modern music!

An interesting element of this disc's original Virgin incarnation was the involvement of Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, a devotee of modern music who studied with Luciano Berio at Mills College. Lesh and his Rex Foundation helped subsidize the 1991 recording. The Virgin disc with original cover art has now been reissued by ArkivMusic.

See my CARTER: A LISTENER'S GUIDE list for more reviews and recommendations.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x939f7960) out of 5 stars First-rate performances 26 Dec. 2008
By Personne - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Let's assume that you're an Elliott Carter fan and that you don't need my review to convince you that this music is well worth hearing. So how well is it played?

I first became aware of Oliver Knussen in the late 1970's. He came upon the scene as a composer of talent, although his output has never been very large. Somewhere along the way, he began conducting. And he turned into one heck of a fine conductor.

Far too many conductors face new music -- if they face it at all -- as a job to get over with. They beat time, keep some minor control of dynamics, and let the rest happen. Few of them seem to inquire into the music at a deeper level. What are the tempo relationships? What details should be foremost? Where is the drama? Oliver Knussen brings a composer's ear to this task. It is clear that he understands every detail and how that detail fits into the overall scheme of the piece. He makes certain that it is played properly. The result is a performance of drama and clarity, not only showing the excitement of these pieces, but also placing them squarely in the classical mindset that permeates all of Carter.

There is never a single definitive performance of a piece. Great music supports any number of valid approaches, and different ears can ascribe differing levels of importance to details in a piece. But there is not doubt that, from the very first measure, these performances are definitive. Somehow, EMI has let this recording go out of print. Snatch one up while you can.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9378e54c) out of 5 stars Strong performances of mature Carter, from the brutal onslaughts of the 1960s to the mellower figure of two decades on 2 May 2013
By Christopher Culver - Published on
Format: Audio CD
This EMI disc is a reissue of an early 1990s Virgin Classics release. It features Oliver Knussen and the London Sinfonietta's take on three pieces by Elliott Carter from across several decades of the composer's career. Though Carter's music is not for everyone, the range shown here and the quality of the recording and performances makes this recommended for fans of the 20th century avant-garde.

The Concerto for Orchestra (1970) is quite an experience. In writing it, Carter was inspired by Saint-John Perse's long poem "Vents" (Winds), which describes metaphorical gales blowing over America, destroying the old and bringing in the new. The orchestra is divided into four groups and every performer is a soloist at some point, but instead of perceiving the fine divisions that highlight individual performers, I've always heard the Concerto for Orchestra as something of a brutal orchestral monolith, wonderfully loud, crashing and banging. In spite of the rich variety of timbres, the overall colour is a kind of intimidating grey. This is Carter as the modernist bad boy who drives subscriber audiences out of the hall, but adventurous listeners who stick around may find it gripping, and audiences brought up on punk or heavy metal probably have a better chance than most classical fans.

The Concerto for Orchestra has also been recorded by Michael Gielen and the SWF Symphony Orchestra on a Arte Nova disc. A strong aspect of Knussen recording is that it is divided over several tracks on the disc (Introduction, Movements I, II, III, IV and Coda), whereas the Gielen recording is on a single track.

The Violin Concerto (1980) is in three movements Impulsivo-Tranquillo-Scherzando. Not only does this piece reflect the mellowing that Carter's music underwent in the Eighties -- where the multi-tempoed instruments are more in convivial dialogue than conflict -- but there is also a palpable inspiration from Classical and early Romantic concertos. It probably still won't win over conservative concertgoers for whom classical music ended a century ago, but when I read Carter interviews where he stated that he greatly appreciates Mozart, I no longer consider it an empty platitutde. If I had to compare the Violin Concerto to any other Carter work, then it would be the Symphonia "Sum fluxae pretium spei" of several years later. It not only has the same joie de vivre at times, but the second movement of the concerto and the second movement of the Symphonia are slow, dark, mournful landscapes unusual in the music of this generally hyperactive composer.

The Violin Concerto has also been recorded by Rolf Schulte and the Odense Symphony Orchestra conducted by Justin Brown on a Bridge disc. I don't find one performance superior to the other, but this one has slightly better sound, plus the fact that Ole Böhn was the dedicatee makes this performance worth hearing.

Finally, we have the 3 Occasions for Orchestra, a set of brief occasional pieces that Carter wrote between 1986 and 1989. The first, "A Celebration of 100 x 150 Notes" was writen for the Houston Symphony to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Texas. It's a fanfare lasting exactly 150 bars that, for has its uncomprising modernism, has some downright charming writing for brass. "Remembrace" was written as a memorial for Paul Fromm, its sad expanses foretell the middle movement of his "Symphonia" just like the Violin Concerto does. "Anniversary" was written on the occasion of his fiftieth wedding anniversary to his wife Helen Carter, it's an airy piece, though feels somewhat fluffy and insubstantial after a few listens.

Gielen also recorded the 3 Occasions on the aforementioned Arte Nova. Gielen's is a live recording with some audience noise and close miking, and Gielen tends to accentuate the more percussive elements of Carter's score. The Knussen, on the other hand, is more distantly miked and this conductor brings out the more delicate elements better.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9378e6d8) out of 5 stars A magnificent introduction to Carter's orchestral oeuvre! 29 May 2013
By brotagonist - Published on
Format: Audio CD
London Sinfonietta denotes the finest in New Music. The album features three of Carter's orchestral works. I cannot help thinking of Des Canyons Aux Etoiles, as the grandeur and majesty of the Concerto for Orchestra evokes the landscape of Messiaen's masterpiece as hinted by the cover photo. The Violin Concerto is no less a work of grandeur that could almost be a violin sonata with the orchestra taking the part of the usual piano. The Three Occasions for Orchestra are just that: orchestral fanfares for special occasions. This is a magnificent introduction to Carter's orchestral oeuvre.
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