Nordic Music -
Dare to listen to the music Elliott Carter means to concentrate. The music - and above all the chamber music - of this composer is strict and, albeit full of vocalism, at the same time carefully thought out and circled. If you are not careful as an interpreter, the whole thing will dry quickly.
Not so with the Johannes Martens Ensemble, which presents a cross-section of Carter's chamber music here. The seven musicians mix, in very different compositions, the brittle precision of New Music with an almost romantic play and color joy, which makes the works shimmer impressionistic, sometimes almost jazzy - you rarely hear!
Johannes Martens strong, pleasantly roughened Celloton often plays the lead role. The chirping wind and the rich and bass-heavy mixed piano provide well-balanced contrasts. The whole thing is available as a DSD recording - that's new music at the connoisseur level!
This American composer celebrated his hundredth birthday on Nov 28, 2008. Nearly as extraordinary, this superb DSD release encompasses works composed from 1939, with eight compositions postdating the composer's eightieth birthday.
The major work in this compilation is the Cello Sonata of 1948, which, with the piano sonata of 1946, are considered Carter's first important works. In an interview in the December 4 'Boston Herald', Carter states, 'after a certain period in 1948 after my cello sonata [...], most of my pieces are not in the traditional form [...], each piece has its own particular character, its own formation, presentation. People have been saying that my music has become much more transparent, and I suppose it has since at one time it was much more complex.'
This is borne out by the works which follow the opening Cello Sonata on this disc, which generally averages five minutes' duration. The two 'Figments' are composed for the cello, the 'Enchanted Preludes' of 1988 for flute and cello, 'Scrivo in Vento' for flute, 'Gra' [ Polish for 'game' ] for clarinet, the 'Fragments' for string quartet, and 'Con Leggerezza Pensosa' [ dedicated to the writer Italo Calvino ], for clarinet, violin and cello.
Carter, much like his mentor, Charles Ives, cannot be easily slotted into any particular compositional school. In the 1940s, prior to Carter's breakthrough works, both Stravinsky and Schoenberg were active in America. Musical serialism was in the ascendancy in the American classical compositional establishment, to the extent that Schoenberg complained that many aspiring Hollywood composers signed up for one lesson in musical composition from him so that they could claim on their CVs to have been his pupil.
Copland composed his famously acerbic Piano Variations around 1937 before swerving into his immensely successful faux-Appalachian populism-- doubtless what failed vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin would laud as 'being a real American' were she ever to recognize Copland as a composer. However, Carter never really had a serial or atonal musical phase, nor did he ever feel the need to incorporate folk music into his works, notwithstanding composers as disparate as Copland,
Bartok, Stravinsky, and Britten. Instead of formulating grandiose gestures of pioneering new, improved harmonic idioms and languages, Carter seems to have set himself down a lifelong path of exploration in the realm of contrapuntal texture and instrumental interplay. Perhaps because of what was perceived to be his intellectualism, Carter has remarked more than once that in the 1950s to 1960s he was more appreciated in Western Europe.
As Stuart McRae's detailed liner notes for this release state, Carter's innovation of 'metric modulation' is a device to 'move seamlessly between different tempi while maintaining a consistent pulse in the music'. Carter often gives different instruments 'separate musical materials with which to play'. Unlike, say, the way which is a JS Bach instrumental concerto the same rhythmic or melodic germ swings from one instrument to the next, in the 'Enchanted Preludes' the flute often has music in a triple meter contrasting to the cello's quadruple rhythm, or the opening movement of the Cello Sonata juxtaposes the piano's henpecked clucking rhythm against the cello's sinuous, quasi-Rachmaninovian line.
Although in a work of music criticism it is customary to offer some appreciation of the quality of the musical performance, Carter's music, like most living classical composers, contains no extensive library of recorded performances. The Cello Sonata is an accepted modern repertory piece, it is also the only work on this disc which I have had the good fortune to experience in the concert hall.
The performance of the Cello Sonata on this album is as good as I have heard, mediated in no small measure by the warm and opulent sound of this DXD-recorded release. The superb cellist and pianist bring out the humour and wit of the work's outer movements, qualities not often thought of as integral to no-compromises contemporary classical music.
The heart of this work, the Adagio, is effectively contrasted in its intense neo-classical lyricism. This is a case where the richness of a state-of-the-art recording elevates the emotional impact of already fine musicianship.
This is an outstanding release of modern chamber music, especially for the musically curious who want to dip a toe out of their customary comfort zone.
The Classical CD Blog
Cellist Johannes Martens heads straight into Norwegian music with this album. Now we do not give Martens honors alone just for this tribute to the 100-year-old composer Elliot Carter (1908), but he is at the center of a very good production.
The music Martens selected spanning 50 years and includes a good cross section of Carter compositional work. Plata preceded by Carter's famous cello sonata from 1948 music are conveyed with warmth and virtuosity. These are Carter's most recorded work - not without reason.
Yet it is his beautiful "Elegy" for string quartet from 1946, as well as the imaginative "Enchanted Preludes" from 1988, which in this recording brings the best results to one's ears.
Another element which also impresses on this record, the musicians' formidable ability to interact. It radiates sheer music enjoyment of the whole project.
It is a sensation in itself when a man rounds a hundred years old and still is clear in his head. In this case, not celebrating just ambulatory; Carter has in recent years undergone an astonishing creative period, with newly written works that only the most experienced artist and craftsman portfolio.
Elliott Carter says in his childhood he could ride down Manhattan without hitting a single automobile, in stark contrast to today's constant chaos. He traveled to Europe just before and just after both the first and second world war and then the catastrophic following of these. He has felt the body need for the emergence of music that reflects the man in light of the modern world. Throughout his life, he has been a vigilant observer, and his life's work stands as a tribute to the man.