• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Music review

Elliot Carter:

A Celebration

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

The two pieces for full orchestra that began and ended Wednesday's concert by the BBC SSO under conductor Diego Masson, replacing Ryan Wigglesworth for the first half of this two-day celebration of the work of the American composer who died aged 103 in 2012, established the credentials of the BBC SSO with the repertoire. They first played Boston Symphony with Ilan Volkov at Tramway, just seven months after its premiere in Boston, and Variations for Orchestra, from half a century earlier, was a repertoire piece in the mid-90s, including an Usher Hall performance at the Edinburgh Festival.

With superb ensemble strings in both, they also illustrated the development in Carter's writing and the totality of vision present across the decades. In the Variations the lead voice is passed between sections and partnerships of instruments, while the Symphony contains even more intricate conversations between winds and strings, with demanding pizzicato passages, melodic flourishes from startling groups of instruments and a bold statement in the brass and horns about three quarters of the way through its 20 minutes.

The fullest use of all the forces available is the consistent characteristic of this individual composer and the only meaning of "Carteresque" that makes any sense. It is as identifiable in the works for solo piano played by Nicolas Hodges, whose airy dismissal of their technical demands to Kate Molleson in Wednesday's paper was supported by the pleasure he took in executing the lightning fingerwork. In partnership with SSO leader Laura Samuel and principal cello Martin Storey and then with percussionist Colin Currie and a smaller orchestra on the wonderful Two Controversies and a Conversation from 2011, the ability of Carter to create fine music best described in non-musical terms (including Thoughts and Epigrams) was communicated with passion.

I don't know whether it is true that his exceptionally long working life allowed Elliott Carter to impose an unusual element of order on his cataolgue, but there seemed to be something more than intelligent programming behind the structure of this tribute. Thursday's concert mirrored Wednesday's in placing the works for larger forces on either side of two Dialogues for piano and chamber orchestra from the 21st century, once again pairing works originally written to different commissions for specific musicians. In the case of the first, from 2003, we had the man it was composed for, Nicholas Hodges, as soloist, but he seemed equally familiar with its partner, written as a 70th birthday gift for Daniel Barenboim and premiered at La Scala with Gustavo Dudamel weeks before the composer's death.

If some of Carter's late writing for piano, particularly Two Thoughts which Hodges played on Wednesday, called to mind the work of Keith Jarrett, an earlier jazz influence was clear in 1944's Holiday Overture, an evocation of release from wartime stress where Carter's early debt to Ives and Copland placed him clearly in a tradition.

If it was a joy, the Symphonia: sum fluxae pretium spei, three individually-commissioned movements assembled into a mighty 50-minute epic was the perfect culmination of this celebration, with the orchestral players alive to every nuance of the dynamic demands the composer makes on different combinations of instruments and conductor Ryan Wigglesworth in control of the careful arc of each element of the trio, especially the more contemplative sombre BBC-commissioned central Adagio tenebroso.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

236866