ELLIOTT CARTER 100TH Anniversary Release reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

ELLIOTT CARTER 100TH Anniversary Release, New Music Concerts Ensemble, Robert Aitken, Director. Naxos 8.559614 (2008)

I enjoyed this album of ten short pieces in which Elliott Carter goes opposite. The central mood is melancholy but Carter always goes radially opposite to moods of elation, rapture, anger, pastoral reflection: he is often playful and jokey.

If a passage moves with the ponderous, creaking movements of age overcoming inertia, the getting started is slow. Then Carter goes opposite–to abrupt, shrill, explosive, as if finding relief in a burst of exasperation.

Ideas come to Carter seemingly one at time. He sets an idea down. What happens next is what happens next. There is not much building by imitation, repetition, modulated progressions. When an idea is done, another seems to drop in to take up the space. There is a freedom in this jerky flow that sometimes sounds like a small pickup truck with a bed full of junk bouncing along a washboard dirt road stopping often to allow the sound of a white throated sparrow, aspen leaves shivering in the breeze, some utterly tender moment finding its voice.

After several listenings, my mind feels adventurous, elegant and humane.

Carter wrote this music between his 75th birthday and his 100th. Most are occasional pieces composed as a present to honour friends who have contributed to music. The list is impressive: Charles Ives, Witold Lutoslawski, Goffredo Petrassi, Fred Sherry, Carlos Salzedo, and Robert Aitken, Director of the New Music Concerts Ensemble, dedicatee and soloist of “Scrivo In Vento”.

This piece, like many others on the disc has antecedents. “Scrivo” is a reflection on a paradoxical love poem by Petrarch. “Enchanted Preludes” for flute and cello performed by Aitken and David Hetherington is a musical description of the varying moods in a poem by Wallace Stevens. “Mosaic”, performed by Erica Goodman, recalls Carter’s friendship in the early 30’s with harpist Carlos Salzedo.

I find it deeply interesting that these pieces, so apparently pure in form, can also be listened to and explored as program music with antecedents in the rich friendships and cultures both musical and literary that Carter has enjoyed in Europe and America for a century.

Among the outstanding soloists these names need to be mentioned: Fujiko Imajishi, violin; Max Christie, clarinet; Virgil Blackwell, bass clarinet; David Swan, piano.

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