A new performance of a no-longer-contemporary classic
Joe Barron | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania United States | 12/14/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There have been a lot new releases this fall devoted to the music of Elliott Carter, timed, intentionally or not, to coincide with his 95th birthday, which fell on Dec. 11, 2003. Most have focused on the composer's more recent work, and so the offering on this one is an exceptional treat: a new reading of Carter's now-classic Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Pianos with Two Chamber Orchestras. Dating from 1961, it is no longer a contemporary work, but in the hands of the new music group Sequitur it sounds very fresh indeed. We've needed a new recording of this piece for a while -- the only other performance available, on Nonesuch, dates from 1975 -- and this one will do nicely. The young performers seem to have this music in their bones. It's beautifully phrased, relaxed performance, and the use of stero channels brings out the spatial separation of the two ensembles that Carter intended, especially if you listen with ear phones. The other music on the album doesn't quite rise to Carter's level of originality, but it's attractive nonetheless. Especially noteworthy is Thea Musgrave's "Lamnenting with Ariadne," a melancholy little concerto for viola and six other musicians. Harold Meltzer's short "Virginal," the only other piece to include harpsichord, is pretty, in a ticking, post-minimalist way, though "Locking Horns" by David Rokowski sounds a little like warmed-over Zappa, who himself can sound like warmed over Varese."
A Good Look at Some Modern Concerti
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 01/19/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is an interesting disc in that it features a relatively new group, Sequitur, that has made a name for itself performing new and relatively new music in unusual fora and contexts. This appears to be their first recording and one hopes that it is not their last. The disc features four concertante pieces, three of which are brand-new, and one of which, the Carter Double Concerto, is over forty years old. Interestingly, the Carter sounds fresher than a couple of the new ones, but I'm sure other ears might hear them differently.
First up is the coyly named 'Virginal' (referring somewhat humorously to the Elizabethan-era instrument, not the, erm, condition) which is essentially a harpsichord concerto in two movements. It is composed by Harold Meltzer, one of the founders of Sequitur, and the soloist is Sara Laimon, the other founder of the group. It has a 21st-century harmonic language and instrumentation (six winds, two percussion, harp, guitar, string quintet) but parodies the sewing-machine rhythms of the baroque era. However, polyrhythms pop up and suddenly one is reminded of the Carter piece that ends this disc. Whether intentional or not, it's a nice touch.
David Rakowski's 'Locking Horns,' is essentially a five movement concerto for horn and a chamber ensemble consisting of seven winds (including another horn who shadows the soloist and sometimes 'locks horns'), two percussionists and string quintet. It is written in a mélange of styles from Webern to what sounds like free improvisation. To be quite honest, this piece, in spite of several rehearings, did not speak to me at all. My deficiency, I suspect. That said, it is very well played; Daniel Grabois is the fine horn soloist.
A real find is the viola concerto called 'Lamenting with Ariadne' by Thea Musgrave, heretofore known to me only from her operas. Although one might expect that it would have some musical correspondence with her opera, 'The Voice of Ariadne,' I did not detect any other than the title and the overall melancholic tone. The forces include the soloist (the very able Daniel Panner), flute, clarinet, violin, cello, harp and percussion. And there is a second quasi-soloist, a trumpet (rather like in Shostakovich's First Piano Concerto) who emerges as more and more important as we go along. There is a program supplied by Musgrave: the trumpet represents Dionysus to the viola's Ariadne. Things get a little livelier when he is around, but inevitably he disappears and Ariadne is left to lament. Musgrave has a talent for narrative and this piece demonstrates that. I have a long-time interest in a music festival with an attached music school and I'm of a mind to suggest the Musgrave for one of their yearly viola concerto competitions. One gets tired of the Walton and Bartók concerti and the Hindemith 'Schwanendreher' again and again. I think it's good enough (and short enough at 16 minutes) to fill the bill.
The pièce de résistance is the Carter 'Double Concerto for Harpsichord, Piano and Two Chamber Orchestras' (1961). Although it has a place in the new music repertoire it has only had one recording before, that I'm aware of, featuring the late and still-lamented Paul Jacobs and Gilbert Kalish as soloists. It was made in the 1970s on Nonesuch. That recording has been a classic since issued and has never been out of print. This performance has some differences in addition to its modern sound. It is looser and rhythmically freer somehow; could it be that the performers are not as daunted as an earlier group? In any event, it is fully competitive with older recording. The soloists are Sara Laimon, harpsichord, and Steven Beck, piano, and they seem utterly at home with this music. There are rhythmic security and nuanced phrasings that tell me these players must have this music in their bones. Paul Hostetter is conductor of the Carter and he is assisted by Thomas Carling.