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Elliott Carter: Eight Compositions
Elliott Carter, Fred Sherry, Charles Neidich
Elliott Carter: Eight Compositions
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (11) - Disc #1

With a full orchestra, Elliott Carter can spread his wings with clangorous grandness. When he goes with a smaller unit, as he does here, he can also do wonderful things--expanding on his tonal and timbral studies with tele...  more »


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With a full orchestra, Elliott Carter can spread his wings with clangorous grandness. When he goes with a smaller unit, as he does here, he can also do wonderful things--expanding on his tonal and timbral studies with telescoped intensity. This generous 78-minute collection begins in 1993 with Charles Neidich unfurling Gra for the solo clarinet, a piece that rivals anything on the extraordinary Giacinto Scelsi's Complete Works for the Clarinet for breadth and investigative power. Carter, an octogenarian when he wrote Gra, has, this collection shows, been on similar paths since at least 1948, when the CD's closer, Sonata for Violoncello and Piano, came to be. It shows off Carter's proclivity for middle-register grounding and fast outward motion, always tracking toward the unfamiliar and creating electric excitement. As a compendium of one of the greatest American composer's solo and chamber works, Eight Compositions can't be beat. --Andrew Bartlett

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CD Reviews

How refreshing such vehement dislike ...
Jules | Easton, Pa USA | 02/08/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Lloyd Schwartz, in his liner notes to Speculum Musicae's essential recordings of Carter's vocal works (Bridge 9014) writes of his early Frost settings that they are "like the early realistic drawings of a great abstract painter". It would be difficult to come up with a better analogy, not only for Carter's post-1950 compositions but for all works that have willfully surrendered any notion of conventional tonal centers. Tonality in this equation is the equivalent of the figurative in painting. Non tonal works are correspondingly abstract, like the paintings of Pollock or Motherwell: all figurative elements in such works are either accidental or part of a designated encounter of tonal and non tonal aspects (as in Maxwell Davies or the de Koonig of the 'women' series). Now, it is quite clear that, in music as in painting or even dance, there will a number of quite intelligent persons who will never accept the value of abstraction, who think abstract expressionism for instance so much tosh, a Greenbergian legerdemain concocted to brutally anchor american art in the history books as new, valid in its own right, not sub- par europeanism. And it is in fact unfortunate that such progressive art has too often been brandished as an ideological jackhammer, out to bring down the venerable Penn stations of the prevalent taste: this is what happens when true creativity gets ossified in academia. But for those who do not find abstraction anathema, who are as they say adventurous, it should be made clear that all the hyperbolic smoke surrounding Carter is not without fire. He may not be the greatest american composer just like Pollock is hardly the greatest american painter but there are brilliant things to discover here.
This however is not the disc to start with: it's well performed no doubt and the pieces are always interesting if not the best of Carter (except for the cello sonata). Just as it is not really possible to grasp Pollock's 'advance' without a knowledge of what preceded him (as in Kandinsky or the German expressionists: ie, how the figure gets progressively disintegrated and for what reasons) so with Carter (or Schoenberg for that matter) it is best to start with an earlier transitional work like his piano sonato of 1946. It's an astounding piece: Rosen does it well, Jacobs was great, but I favour Watson on Virgin because he choses to program it together with Copland's own monumental sonata and Barber's fighting romanticism. (all these were written in the 40s, an amazing decade for keyboard works: in addition to the above it is also when Dutilleux publishes his luminous and equally transitional sonata). After this, I would move to the cello sonata of '48 on Nonesuch (the better rendering) before taking a deep breath for the plunge into the mind boggling first quartet. (The Composers are the best on Nonesuch; they convey the excitement of discovery. The great Arditti is next and best all round. I find the later Juilliard plodding and too closely recorded for comfort: listen to the crisp page turning throughout). Then, you could turn to the superb Night Fantasies (by Rosen or Oppens) which echo Copland Night thoughts. From there, you're on your own but down forget the vocal pieces: Carter is the premiere reader of American poetry: in addition to Frost and Dickinson, he sets Bishop, Lowell, Ashbery, etc."
Great Pieces for One or Two Instruments
Karl Henzy | 10/02/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

""If I didn't know better," says the reviewer below. He doesn't.These are wonderful pieces. Carter's major works are for larger ensembles than the one, two, or three instruments of these pieces, but these exemplify what is possible for for just one or two instruments when the composer is as inventive as Carter. And far from expressing some late 20th-Century anxiety, most of the pieces are simply full of the joy of invention. To take just one example, Enchanted Preludes for Flute and Cello is marvellous, the deep resonant cello chasing the playful, mercurial flute, trying to emulate its lightness. If you don't understand or appreciate modern music, stay away from Carter, sure, but don't condemn them out of ignorance. These are fine pieces by one of the great masters of our time."
Great collection by a genuinely colossal figure.
Augustus Caesar, Ph.D. | Eugene, Oregon United States | 07/01/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Elliott Carter (b. 1908) is a composer whose music seems to inspire either love or hatred, with little in between. Carter started out studying with Nadia Boulanger in the 1930s, then wrote several years' worth of neo-Copland music before finally finding his own voice in the mid-1940s. Beginning with his Piano Sonata, Carter began writing in an exclusively atonal idiom, constructing works that are breathtaking in their complexity and integrity. This is not music for the dilettantes who like to play Schubert like muzak when they are cleaning their house or chatting with friends. This is uncompromising, "serious" (often playfully so) music intended for listeners who approach it with the respect it deserves and with the willingness to spend the time required (however long that may be) to appreciate it. If you're looking for instant comprehension, look into [stuff] like "The World's Most Soothing Classical Album" and other corporate delights.This is a truly invaluable collection, with important works culled from 45 years of Carter's creative development. The earliest work here was written when the composer was 40 and the latest when he was 85, but evident throughout is his daring, originality, extraordinary technique and adherence to his own creative vision. This is beautiful music by virtually any measure. The performances, mostly by the Group for Contemporary Music, are superb. This collection speaks for itself.Milton Babbitt once asked, "Who cares if you listen?" The point of that notorious essay was that there is now more to music than Tchaikovsky, and that composers have an obligation to themselves and their art and not to close-minded, musically unlettered philistines. Though he wrote that essay in 1958, Babbitt's thesis is unfortunately still valid, as evidenced by the negative, dismissive reviews of Carter's music featured here. If you don't like it, don't listen to it; but don't attack the composer for being a fraud if you won't take the time to familiarize yourself with his music beyond a cursory listen."