I had come into this disc with no particular affinity for the music of Elliott Carter, only having liked his 8 Etudes and Fantasy and the Cello and Piano Sonatas. But as I listened to this disc, the seductive interactions between clarinet, played expressively by the magnificent Alain Damiens, and sections of the orchestra forced me to rescind my opinion of just how wide his emotional range is.
This is the very first piece I've ever heard of Howard Sandroff's, and I have to admit, so far I'm impressed. The piece in many ways reminded me of Cronenberg's Videodrome, at times I didn't know where the clarinet stopped and the electronics began. Sometimes it sounds like the electronics are moaning (again, Videodrome!), at others they sound like they are parroting the clarinet. But it all carries with it an otherworldly beauty the likes of which I haven't heard in a long time.
Given who it was founded by (Pierre Boulez), you'd never guess just how brilliant this ensemble is at playing Adams' Gnarly Buttons or New York Counterpoint. Pierre Boulez has explicitly stated at times how little his fondness is for these two composers, calling The Death of Klinghoffer "bad film music." But it looks like that feeling hasn't rubbed off on either Alain, Andre Trouttet, or the rest of the ensemble, as their performance perfectly captures the sentiment of the music, especially the Alzheimer's-inspired disintegration of the third movement.
Overall, this cd is so accomplished that there is not a single bad thing I could say about it. The idea for the disc stretches one's aesthetic, challenging all those super-modernists to actually listen for a change and the minimalists out there to learn a thing or two about expression, whether it's in the Adams, the Carter, or the Sandroff. Even from a clarinet player's point of view (I play the clarinet) the performances are the model for expressiveness, tone, and energy as much as any performance I've heard, and certainly more than, say, Stolzman, or, for that matter, this cd:
Copland: El Salon Mexico / Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra / Music for the Theatre / Connotations for Orchestra ~ Bernstein
I can't recommend this album highly enough.