Friday, 1 August 2008

Prom 15 Elliott Carter

Mark Berry on Carter's Oboe Concerto at the Tuesday Prom :

"Carter’s Oboe Concerto was written in 1986-7, shortly before he was eighty, so doubtless qualifies as relatively ‘early’, given the composer’s extraordinary late fecundity. It is written for solo oboe, a concertino group of four violas and percussionist, and orchestra, actually more of a chamber ensemble, comprising flute, clarinet, horn, trombone, two percussionists, and viola-less strings. Written in one continuous stretch, its twenty minutes or so nevertheless comprise something akin to the classical fast-slow-fast three-movement-structure of a concerto. The performers, all of them, did Carter proud. Indeed, it sounded as if this were a repertory piece, in which the players were as much at home as the composer with its modernity: just what a performance of new(-ish) music should be. Nicholas Daniel drew upon considerable twin reserves of musicality and virtuosity and blended them. He did not mask the sometimes extreme demands – the concerto was written for and inspired by Heinz Holliger, no less – but nor did he allow them to become his principal concern. Throughout, as with all of the players, there was sense to be made of the ever-changing and yet ever-present compositional line. Carter’s polyrhythms came across, as they should, although this is no mean feat, as the equivalent of melody in rhythm. Time played its tricks and kept its command, for which Robertson must be apportioned a great deal of credit. Carter’s skills as a colourist were not denied, the percussionist from the concertino group deserving especial mention in this respect. The sense of temporal progress and sonorous transformation as he switched from vibraphone to glockenspiel was an object lesson in rescuing his orchestral section from the charge of being mere purveyors of ‘effects’. But it was with the oboe alone that the concerto so memorably faded into nothingness."

Full review at and S&H

Carter wrote this for and with Heinz Hollinger. Carter apparently suggested ideas and asked Hollinger could they be done at all ? Hollinger tried them out and the result is this amazingly beautiful but technically very difficult piece, which requires circular breathing and various other tours de force. When i first heard Daniel play this in January 2006, he made a few minor fluffs but again so what ? Part of the magic of this piece is how a player works "with" it, thanks to its genesis. After that performance, Carter, then a mere 97, bounded onto the platform and hugged Daniel with affection. He is just one amazing person ! Mark makes a good point about this being "mid period" Carter because as a composer he found his voice relatively late. But he's spent 60 years perfecting it !

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