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Elliot Carter: Piano Concerto/Variations for Orchestra


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Audio CD, December 8, 1992
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Elliot Carter: Piano Concerto/Variations for Orchestra + The Music of Elliott Carter Vol. 7; Boston Concerto, Cello Concerto, ASKO Concerto, Dialogues
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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The music of Elliott Carter is one of the best connections that New Music has to Ives and his generation, including Cowell and Nancarrow. Carter, as catholic in his spools of influences as was Ives, wrote many acclaimed chamber works before his Piano Concerto, played here by Ursula Oppens. But the concerto takes the full weight of the chamber works and sends them loudly and intricately to a higher level, with a more developed hugeness. The Variations for Orchestra are likewise powerful illuminations of previous Carter works, but they too roll so many influences--many of them mainstream--into the mix that the breadth of music alone is staggering. Carter loves the long, large dips and dives, as well as the emergent loudness and lushness that an orchestra can heave much more strongly than a chamber group. But these pieces also show the flip side--that Carter is an astute composer in regard to granular details. --Andrew Bartlett

1. Piano Concerto: 1 - E. Carter
2. Piano Concerto: 2 - E. Carter
3. Variations for Orchestra: Introduction - Theme - Variations 1-9 - Finale - E. Carter

Product Details

  • Performer: Ursula Oppens
  • Conductor: Michael Gielen
  • Composer: Elliot Carter
  • Audio CD (December 8, 1992)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: New World Records
  • ASIN: B0000030DO
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #182,633 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joe Barron on December 29, 2005
Format: Audio CD
There are three performances available of Elliott Carter's great Piano Conerto (two with Ursula Oppens as soloist and Michael Gielen conducting), and this one is the best of the lot. The others may be more accurate or more clearly engineered, as some other reviewers here have stated, but this one is the most gripping. (Reviewing the live concert, critic Andrew Porter called it a performance of the highest order.) The difference? The wonderful playing of the Cincinnati Symphony and the seven-member concertino with which Carter surrounds the soloist. Despite all the talk about Carter's recent "Indian summer" --- composing past the age of 90 --- my favorite music of his comes from his 20-year "high modernist" period, from the Second Quartet of 1959 through the Night Fantasies of 1980. The Piano Concerto, written in the mid-60s, is a masterpiece in a series of masterpieces and one of Carter's most powerful scores. It is a brutal, tragic, heartbreaking work in which the orchestra seems to beat the soloist down just as she begins to take wing. The playing of the orchestral soloists is beautifully phrased, particularly Phillip Ruder's searing, fluent violin. The music goes by really fast, and requires careful, intense listening, but both the concerto and the performance reward the effort. Longtime Carter champion Ursula Oppens has made the work a specialty and has worked closely with the composer in shaping her performance. She is flawless.

The Variations from 1954 is a good introduction to Carter's mature orchestral writing --- less initially daunting than the concerto --- and Gielen gives an exciting, insightful account. Carter expert David Schiff has said that the piece really belongs to the more conservative tradition of the Great American Symphonies of Copland and William Schuman, and, in his view, it outdoes them both. Who am I to argue?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Autonomeus on August 5, 2005
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is not the strongest Carter disc, but it is well worth hearing for the "Variations for Orchestra" (1945-5 -- 22'17). The live recording from October 22, 1985 captures Michael Gielen leading the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in that city's Music Hall. The recording quality is not great, and there is a fair amount of distracting coughing. [The recording by James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been made available again by Arkiv Music, and can also be found in the Elliott Carter: A Nonesuch Retrospective set. While well-played and better-recorded, this Gielen-led performance is a superior interpretation.] "Variations," written shortly after Carter's breakthrough to his mature style with the "Cello Sonata" of 1948 and the "String Quartet No. 1" of 1951, is an attempt to synthesize everything Carter had absorbed up to that point. There are three themes, one a twelve-tone row, that move across the entire work, which begins with an introduction and the theme, moves through nine variations grouped in threes, and then a coda/finale.

Here is David Schiff's summary from the liner notes: "Variation 1 is light and fast; 2 is heavy and slow; 3 combines the previous two. Variation 4 is a continuous ritardando; 5, the eye of the storm, is a motionless study in shadowy sonorities; 6 is a continuous accelerando.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. F. Laurson on November 7, 2003
Format: Audio CD
Nietzsche described himself as a post-humous philosopher - and meant more with that than simply a defiant and perhaps unoriginal response of a genius to its being misunderstood until long after their demise. But that is well enough to think about in terms of Carter's music. The Piano Concerto in particular is a monumental work in classical music in the 20th century. Intellectually and structurally (if perhaps never emotionally) it will one day be considered on par with any of Beethoven's Piano Concertos.
When listening to Carter, you do it for a few reasons: As an intellectual excercise, in order to satisfy the fire of pretension burning inside ye (not the worst of motivations to pursue high art, if I may add) or simply for the rythmical and structural delight that is clearly audible. This also means that Carter is not Sunday-morning family-brunch listening. You spouse may pour hot coffee over you, your children might want to move out. But a Scotch, a nice Chair, a Thursday evening - and Carter can reveal as much and more than any other modern composer can.
The recording on Arte Nova is indeed a notch better, but it lacks the coupeling. Either are well worth getting - and given that one approaches them with the right openness and expectations, will only reward... and richly so.
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Format: Audio CD
Sure, this is a valuable version of Carter's Variations for Orchestra (any version is a "valuable" one, if only because it exists), but "the best interpretation", it isn't. First, it's a live performance, from 1985, and it comes with its loads of coughs that I find quite obtrusive and distracting when I try to concentrate on the music - and there is A LOT of it to concentrate on in Carter's Variations. Very typical: the Variations end with a low D played by harp alone, and Carter adds in a note to the score: "if the harpist cannot produce a clear D, the D may be played by one double Bass pizz. and one arco". So, clearly, for Carter, that distinct low D was important. With Gielen, just as the harp is about to play, there's an extraneous percussive noise, like a bow hitting a music stand... and the harp is covered, and the effect ruined.

Second, it's Gielen, a high-strung, tight-fisted conductor, which in principle I have nothing against, but here it makes Carter's Variations more tough, aggressive and forbidding than they need to be. Not a subjective impression: it takes Gielen 22:16 to get through. Levine's 23:08 in Chicago (Cage: Atlas Eclipticalis / Carter: Variations for Orchestra / Babbitt: Correspondences / Schuller: Spectra) and 22:59 in Munich (Carter: Variations for Orchestra; Wuorinen: Grand Bamboula; Sessions: Piano Concerto; Di Domenica: Symphony) - to say nothing of premiere performer Robert Whitney's 23:40 in Louisville (
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Elliot Carter: Piano Concerto/Variations for Orchestra
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