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December birthday celebrations from Chicago

Chicago A Capella and Ursula Oppens

The Chicago based CD label Cedille, which rarely lets you down, has coupled for release and review a disc of music by America's greatest contemporary composer, still active as the world prepares to greet him at 100th birthday, and another ofwide general appeal for a birth 2000 years ag!

November, so it's Christmas; the lights are up, the flood of Christmas Carols CDs is upon us...

Easy to advise this year; this is the first of the CDs to arrive for review and it will suffice - you can't expect a better one.

There are songs with a Christmas background from many sources in several continents, many of the items composed by choral conductors and specialists, names not known in contemporary art music circles, apart from just one, Per Nørgård's En stjerne er sat.

American composers represented include Stephen Paulus, Gwyneth Walker and James Clemens. The only tunes I knew were Jingle Balls, given a jazzed up take by Clemens with a wild fugue in 7/8 which nods to JSB's WTC/1 No 23, and I wonder as I wander, "cajoled out of a young girl from the Appalachians, who was paid 25 cents a time for singing it". Delightful, but better to have left it with the solo voice on its own at the end and to have dropped the added cadence?

The standard throughout is high, with texts and translations; and this nine-member mixed vocal ensemble is as fine a group to put them over as you'd find anywhere.

Details and sound samples at http://cedillerecords.org/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=356_368&products_id=1049 .

Enthusiastically recommended.

Elliott Carter has never sought easy popularity, and his music can be tough. Ursula Oppens has long been associated with Carter, and her tribute is the complete piano music, 1945-2007.

I love the early piano sonata, hugely innovative but with its roots in Copland and likely to stay in the repertoire, but I have difficulty with some of the later pieces and will need to replay them several times to learn to love some of them. Excellent presentation, with full notes from Bayan Northcott.

See Musical Pointers at the Get Carter Festival (The Barbican, 2002): http://musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/liveevents/Get%20Carter!.htm

Peter Grahame Woolf