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There have been a lot new releases this fall devoted to the music of Elliott Carter, timed, intentionally or not, to coincide with his 95th birthday, which fell on Dec. 11, 2003. Most have focused on the composer's more recent work, and so the offering on this one is an exceptional treat: a new reading of Carter's now-classic Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Pianos with Two Chamber Orchestras. Dating from 1961, it is no longer a contemporary work, but in the hands of the new music group Sequitur it sounds very fresh indeed. We've needed a new recording of this piece for a while -- the only other performance available, on Nonesuch, dates from 1975 -- and this one will do nicely. The young performers seem to have this music in their bones. It's beautifully phrased, relaxed performance, and the use of stero channels brings out the spatial separation of the two ensembles that Carter intended, especially if you listen with ear phones.
The other music on the album doesn't quite rise to Carter's level of originality, but it's attractive nonetheless. Especially noteworthy is Thea Musgrave's "Lamenting with Ariadne," a melancholy little concerto for viola and six other musicians. Harold Meltzer's short "Virginal," the only other piece to include harpsichord, is pretty, in a ticking, post-minimalist way, though "Locking Horns" by David Rokowski sounds a little like warmed-over Zappa, who himself can sound like warmed over Varese.
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This is an interesting disc in that it features a relatively new group, Sequitur, that has made a name for itself performing new and relatively new music in unusual fora and contexts. This appears to be their first recording and one hopes that it is not their last. The disc features four concertante pieces, three of which are brand-new, and one of which, the Carter Double Concerto, is over forty years old. Interestingly, the Carter sounds fresher than a couple of the new ones, but I'm sure other ears might hear them differently.
First up is the coyly named 'Virginal' (referring somewhat humorously to the Elizabethan-era instrument, not the, erm, condition) which is essentially a harpsichord concerto in two movements. It is composed by Harold Meltzer, one of the founders of Sequitur, and the soloist is Sara Laimon, the other founder of the group. It has a 21st-century harmonic language and instrumentation (six winds, two percussion, harp, guitar, string quintet) but parodies the sewing-machine rhythms of the baroque era. However, polyrhythms pop up and suddenly one is reminded of the Carter piece that ends this disc. Whether intentional or not, it's a nice touch.
David Rakowski's 'Locking Horns,' is essentially a five movement concerto for horn and a chamber ensemble consisting of seven winds (including another horn who shadows the soloist and sometimes 'locks horns'), two percussionists and string quintet. It is written in a mélange of styles from Webern to what sounds like free improvisation. To be quite honest, this piece, in spite of several rehearings, did not speak to me at all. My deficiency, I suspect. That said, it is very well played; Daniel Grabois is the fine horn soloist.Read more ›
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