Modern, classical music (if that’s not an oxymoron) doesn’t get played a lot. Classical music itself continues to hold a steady if small market share, but the appetite for new works is limited to an even smaller segment.
Part of that is the fault of composers themselves, of course. There’s a school that approaches music from a purely theoretical standpoint, employing a rarefied language that simply fails to connect with audiences. Lacking emotional content, it often represents little more than musical masturbation.
Elliot Carter, now 100 (yes, that’s one hundred, as in ‘years old’) has seen more musical trends come and go than most. And he’s unquestionably been influenced by advances in harmonic and rhythmic theory – his music is often challenging and invariably intriguing. But there’s an emotional core at the heart of his work that keeps things engaging and enjoyable on a purely musical basis.
Carter’s work is by no means ‘easy’- this is not the stuff of instantly recognizable melodies and comfortably predictable chord progressions. He often seems to approach his music as a puzzle to be solved, a riddle to be unraveled. This retrospective sums up a good fifty years of Carter’s chamber music, though the emphasis is decidedly on later works – of the ten compositions, eight were composed while in his eighties.
The beautiful "Sonata for Cello and Piano" opens the disc. Carter’s breakthrough composition, it’s distinctly American music, infused with a sense of infinite possibility, borrowing the playful experimentation of jazz when it was young, yet engagingly cerebral in its employment of a technique Carter calls metric modulation, a device used to combine instruments operating in different tempi into a seamless whole.
Carter’s "Elegy," originally composed in 1946 and here rearranged for string quartet (the work has undergone several transformations) bookends the disc. Warmly accessible, it’s a work of seemingly elegant ease, though Carter employs sophisticated modulations to achieve an apparently organic simplicity.