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Elliott Carter (b 1908)

String Quartet No. 1 (1951)
String Quartet No. 5 (1995)

Pacifica Quartet

Naxos American Classics: 8559362

Released to celebrate the veteran and still active American master Elliott Carter’s close impending centenary, these are fairly presumed to be authentic performances with the seal of the composer's approval.

In my earlier years I was greatly taken by Carter's cello sonata and by the independent tempi of his double concerto, next by the large scale 1st quartet, which was distinguished by a pause for retuning in the middle of the first movement...

It wears well on re-acquaintance decades on, and I was glad to find that his 5th, a 'farewell' to the string quartet, is less dauntingly cerebral and than some of those in between. In the 5th textures are more transparent and there is a welcome playfulness in tis uninterrupted succession of short movements and interludes. The longest section is "a remote Adagio sereno" and the last "a bizarre pizzicato coda marked Capriccioso (Bayan Northcott).

I've never become a Carter devotee, but often listened to his music with respect at the least. If he doesn't feature in your collection, this budget-priced disc from Naxos's indispensable American Classics series is as good a place to start as any.

For a succinct review by a Guardian critic who really knows his Carter, see the bottom of this page at this link.

Woorinen The Dante Trilogy

Charles Woorinen (b. 1938) has also enjoyed a long composing life. His ballet trilogy from his late fifties for the New York City Ballet has a busy score recorded here in a reduced version, the first part for two pianos, the middle panel for six players and the last for thirteen (conductor Oliver Knussen) [Naxos American Classics 8.559345].

The insert notes tell all you might want to know about Dante and his Inferno, but correspondences are only vague and approximate and it sounds well heard just as music. It is scored in a lively manner and makes for enjoyable listening; a DVD of the full ballet would be very desirable.

Peter Grahame Woolf