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on 5 January 2009
I remember when the Naxos label started up. Most (including myself) dismissed their budget CDs as a gimmick. The early releases were unadventurous. But as years went on Naxos began to release recordings that were indispensible, even raiding the Marco Polo label.

For me it has been the American Classics label that has proved to be a great achievement and it is this recording of the music of the greatest living composer, which crowns that achievement.

The opening and closing tracks (Mosaic and Dialogues, respectively) are the first time that I have heard them. It shows that Mr Carter still makes demands on the listener and expects the listener to work for their appreciation. Between are some of the greatest pieces of solo works written. What makes these pieces so important is that they represent the limits that a player can impose on their instrument.

The New Music Consort, as a group and as soloists, give some of the best interpretations of Carters music I've heard. They play with a passion and intelligence that the composer demands.

This CD is an outstanding introduction to the music of this 20th (and 21st) century composer. For the lover of Carter's music, it is also a must.
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on 14 December 2008
This Elliott Carter 100th Birth Day CD = DVD contains -

CD - 10 Tracks - Mainly of the kind of short 3 - 6 minute solo instrument works Carter has produced for musicians and friends birthdays in the last 25 years. Plus two slightly longer works: The 12 minute Mosaic for solo harp and 7 instruments, and the 14 minute Dialogues for solo piano and eighteen instruments. Total CD length 65 minutes.

DVD - A 22 minute interview of Elliott Carter by flautist Robert Aitken, plus video footage of performances of Mosaic and Dialogues. Total DVD length about 50 minutes.

The DVD is a good place to start, as in the interview Carter explains a fair amount about his approach to composition in these works. The videos are spoiled by low production values - they have the resolution of 1960's TV. The videoed performances have the feel of someone in the audience doing the camera work during a performance. They are not staged to aid viewing. On one the conductor is hidden behind the piano as he conducts the musicians behind it.

As to the CD. I come to this CD as someone who likes some of Elliot Carter's work. His Variations for Orchestra, his Clarinet Concerto. I enjoyed a live performance of his recent Horn Concerto at Symphony Hall in Birmingham last week. However, I find most of these works harder to take. I appreciate that this is significant music, but I can't find much in it that appeals to me.

I found the most approachable pieces to be those, like Figment No 2 (Remembering Mr Ives), that had some recognisable lyricism to them. Elliott Carter is no doctrinaire modernist, I can hear why musicians seek him out for compositions, but what I hear here is to much concentraction on instrumental technique. At times Carter seems intent on breaking down any traditional musicality. As he says of Dialogues in the interview, there are passages in which he deliberatley prevents the pianist from being able to get into a rythm. This strikes me as a rather anti-musical approach to music. On the other hand the playing cannot be faulted.

This is a decent way of marking the 100th year of a composer who is still hard at work. The interview is informative, but I would have hoped for higher production values, and more than perching a camera somewhere in the audience at a concert. For those who like present day Carter the music will be a welcome addition to their record collections.

How to rate this. I dont 'like' all of this music, but I recognise there is something important here. Performance and Sound on the CD are excellent. Four Stars.
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