June 28, 2013 7:31 pm

Elliott Carter: Piano Concerto, Tri-Tribute etc

Album overturns the stereotype that built up around the composer during his lifetime

Volume nine of Bridge Records’ invaluable anthology of American composer Elliott Carter (1908-2012) overturns the stereotype that built up around him during his lifetime – that his music was dry and overly intellectual.

“Tell me here is fancy bred” (1938) for voice and guitar is a charming Shakespeare setting, written for a 1938 New York production (by Orson Welles) of The Merchant of Venice and influenced by the composer’s study of Byrd and Dowland. It is winningly interpreted here by soprano Rosalind Rees and David Starobin. Voyage and Warble for lilac time also date from Carter’s ultra-accessible first period, before his late 1940s modernist epiphany.

Scored for voice and piano or orchestra, both sound joyously airborne – especially in these vibrant performances by soprano Tony Arnold and the Colorado College Festival Orchestra. All three vocal works show the under-acknowledged lyrical side of Carter’s creative persona: they deserve to be better known. So do three works from the productive last decade of his life – the dazzlingly virtuosic Two Thoughts about the Piano and the witty, aphoristic Tri-Tribute for solo piano (Steven Beck), and Nine by Five for wind quintet – each a testimony to the vitality and compact expressiveness of Carter’s old age.


For Carter aficionados, however, the CD’s chief draw will be the central work in the anthology – the Piano Concerto (1964-65), a classic of his high modernist phase, heard here in a Swiss Radio recording of Charles Rosen’s 2001 performance with the Basel Sinfonietta. The piece hasn’t become any “lighter” with the years, but the inexorable sweep of this reading helps to mitigate the dense thickets of such complex music.

Elliott Carter

Piano Concerto, Tri-Tribute etc

Various artists

(Bridge Records)

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