CARTER Late Works
The late works of Elliott Carter (1908 2012) are so numerous as to constitute an output on their own. Just where the composer’s ‘late period’ begins is itself a matter of conjecture, yet no one hearing the pieces on this disc is likely to doubt their technical finesse or expressive refinement: qualities that go a long way towards the defining of ‘lateness’ in artistic terms.
Not that finesse or refinement equates to lack of ambition – witness the relatively expansive design of Interventions (2007), where piano and orchestra undercut each other in unexpected ways such that the outcome is a free-flowing fantasia as varied in content as it is cumulative in impact. Dialogues (2003) is more evidently a series of deftly interrelated vignettes, piano eliding between various soloists and ensembles with a poise that recalls the character sketches in Carter’s string quartets; a procedure fined-down in the brief though vital ‘introduction and allegro’ of Dialogues II (2010). Soundings (2005) is different again, an ingenious solution to the problem of the pianist also being a conductor; here the soloist’s laconic gestures bookend a central section containing some of the most explosive music from Carter’s last two decades.
Nor is humour at a premium. Two Controversies and a Conversation (2011) finds the piano at first mediating between ensemble and percussion, Colin Currie switching deftly between marimba and woodblocks, before a more balanced and equable discourse ensues. Carter’s earliest mentor, Charles Ives, would have been as impressed by this as by the interplay of dynamism and stasis in Instances (2012), whose ending yields an exquisite uneventfulness. Epigrams (2012) consists of 12 refractory miniatures, their salient gestures constantly recurring so that diversity is not at the expense of unity – however hard-won. Isabelle Faust and Jean-Guihen Queyras join purposefully with Pierre-Laurent Aimard for this teasingly gnomic swansong.
Aimard’s credentials in Carter were established with a highly impressive account of Night Fantasies (Warner Classics, 9/05) and he tackles this always demanding pianism with alacrity and perception. He brings a more varied timbre to Dialogues than the excellent Nicolas Hodges and enjoys better coordination than the New Music Concerts Ensemble. Daniel Barenboim’s premiere of Dialogues II is audibly a ‘first night’ affair, with that of Instances by the Seattle SO just a little rough-edged. But then, the playing of both BCMG and the BBC SO benefits greatly from the guidance of Oliver Knussen, whose accounts of the Concerto for Orchestra (Virgin/Erato, 7/92) and Symphonia (DG, 1/00) are staples of the Carter discography. Finely recorded, with authoritative notes by John Link, this new disc is sure to occupy no less significant a place. There are unlikely to be any better discs of contemporary music this year.