Album Reviews

Elliott Carter – Symphony Number One, Piano Concerto

(Naxos) UK release date: 2 February 2004


Elliott Carter - Symphony Number One, Piano Concerto It’s amazing to think that Elliott Carter is still composing at the ripe old age of 95, showing as much enthusiasm and vitality for music as ever. The three works on this Naxos disc date from rather earlier in his career and form an attractive, well conceived program, competently played by the relatively unrecorded Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

The Symphony is not well represented in the catalogue, and whilst it is numbered Carter is yet to add a fully fledged second, despite subsequent works that show him at ease with a symphonic style. A languid atmosphere at the opening of this work is captured well by Schermerhorn and his team, the warm clarinet sound a bonus.

It proves to be an appealing, melodic work that might strike a chord with those who find the mature Carter style more difficult to crack. It uses relatively modest orchestral forces, which means that the rendition here can occasionally sound underpowered, as it does towards the close. The lush strings of the second movement are spot on though, and the performance can be judged a success.

The Piano Concerto is a much harder stylistic challenge, with Carter pitting the soloist against the orchestra in something of a duel. Unusually it begins and ends with piano alone, as if the winner of the contest, and in between the often fierce dialogue consists of high leaps in both parts.

At times the music once again leans towards chamber sensibilities, the second movement once again featuring a prominent clarinet part. It’s a piece that needs a lot of listening and effort, but begins to repay this after several tries.

The program opener is a different story, the Holiday Overture being one of Carter’s most obviously American works.. There are heavy hints of Hindemith and Copland in the ninth chords towards the end of an exuberant piece, seemingly finding Schermerhorn and his Nashville players on firmer ground with a more forceful orchestral rendition. As the informative booklet rightly says, the little known ‘populist’ style of Carter’s music of the 1940s comes through.

A successful program then, and Naxos should be applauded for adding Carter to their American Classics series.


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Elliott Carter – Symphony Number One, Piano Concerto