Robert Aitken

Elliott Carter: Mosaic; Dialogues; Enchanged Preludes; Scrivo In Vento

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This Naxos disc, Elliott Carter 100th Anniversary Release, is timed to coincide with Carter's 100th birthday, observed on December 11, 2008. It comes with a menu of 10 relatively short pieces, none written before 1984 and with many dating from the 1990s and 2000s. It confirms that even at Carter's very advanced age, nothing is sapping his imagination or sense of variety and color. Most of these pieces are instrumental solos, and all are performed by members of the New Music Concerts Ensemble, the Toronto-based group led by Robert Aitken that has had a long relationship with Carter. Particularly outstanding is Virgil Blackwell's rendering of the bass clarinet solo Steep Steps (2001), though one wishes the piece itself were just a little longer; likewise noteworthy is Fujiko Imajishi's beautiful and deeply felt performance of Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi (1984), a work that may have touched off the composer's latter-day mania for creating short pieces.

One drawback to this CD is the way the flute is recorded; it's a little too bright, and at certain points its tone is piercing. The CD comes with a bonus in the form of a DVD containing a short documentary, Elliott Carter in Toronto in 2006, which contains a testimonial from Aitken, some excerpts with Carter and Aitken in conversation, and some scenes of Carter working with various musicians involved in this project. The DVD also contains full-length videos of the two larger scale pieces on the program, Mosaic (2005) and Dialogues (2004), and in this respect it's almost more valuable than the CD that is included. Seeing Elliott Carter's music played makes a huge difference in how it is perceived; to be able to watch the expressions of the musicians playing it and what is done with the instruments establishes Carter's music as an exact, sophisticated, and even genteel kind of science, whereas just hearing it might prove, to some listeners, an impenetrably alien experience. Although it may be a "100th Anniversary Release," it is only comprehensive in regard to Carter's late work; nevertheless, it works as a cross section of this period in Carter's long career as a composer.

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