Friday, March 18, 2011

More Carter in the pipeline

Decca Records announced yesterday it has signed the young cellist Alisa Weilerstein to a recording contract. Her first release will consist of a warhorse (Elgar's Cello Concerto) designed to mover product, coupled with a contemporary work (Elliott Carter's concerto) designed to show off her range. Not a bad way to debut, from a marketing standpoint. The orchestra will be conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

Personally, I'm looking forward to it. Anyone who knows me knows I operate in a manner opposite from that of most listeners. The producers expect us to buy Weilerstein's CD for the Elgar, then explore the Carter when we're feeling adventurous. But I don't think I've ever heard the Elgar, and a new Carter CD will furnish me with the perfect excuse to acquaint myself with it.

This will make the third commercial recording of Carter's Cello Concerto, an unusually high number for an atonalist orchestral work that is only about 10 years old. (It was completed in 2000.) The usual pattern for contemporary music a premiere recording followed by dead silence. Chamber works and solo pieces have a better chance, of course, since they rely on only few dedicated performers. The record for recordings of a modernist piece must be held by Carter's own Night Fantasies for solo piano, which has been recorded commerically by:

Ursula Opppens (twice)
Paul Jacobs
Charles Rosen
Winston Choi
Stephen Drury
Aleck Karis
Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Florence Millet
Louise Bessette

On the subject of Elliott Carter: I am afraid the run of masterpieces may be coming to an end at last. Mr. Carter is 102, and he seems to have stopped composing. Boosey and Hawkes, Mr. Carter's publisher, lists no pieces completed in 2010 on its website, although a Boosey press release from last October said he was working on a double concerto for piano and percussion. I have not heard that the piece has been completed. I think A Sunbeam's Architecture, on poetry of E.E. Cummings, may have been completed last year as well, although performance has been delayed pending the resolution of copyright problems. This may truly be it: no matter how old Mr. Carter gets, the end of his long creative life may be in sight. It is a sad prospect.

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