|Review by undertone January 22, 2012 (4 of 4 found this review helpful)
|This noteworthy set of Elliott Carter’s chamber pieces, recorded in Zurich in 2008, includes a composition which is also available on the well-received 2L SACD “Figments and Fragments.”
Elliott Carter: Figments and Fragments - Johannes Martens Ensemble
For those who own the 2L disc, acquiring the Neos recording will provide a relatively rare opportunity to compare two interpretations of a contemporary musical work on SACD, in performances that are both well-recorded and sympathetic to the composer’s intentions.
The Swiss Chamber Soloists are drawn from orchestras in Zurich, Basel and Geneva. The ensemble is directed by violist Jürg Dahler, who recorded Bach’s Goldberg Variations in the string trio arrangement, on Neos.
Bach: Goldberg Variations - Swiss Chamber Soloists
Dahler and his colleagues have been giving recitals and radio performances of 20th-century works for more than a decade. That dedication to demystifying contemporary music and broadening its audience is evident in their lucid renditions of Carter’s chamber works. Guest oboist Heinz Holliger, a long-time friend of the composer, is featured in Carter’s Quartet for Oboe and String Trio (2001), Mosaic for Chamber Ensemble (2004) and Tempo e Tempi for soprano, oboe, clarinet, violin and cello (1999).
For listeners who are inclined to regard Carter’s work as rigidly mathematical or forbiddingly abstruse, these thoughtful performances may help to counter that negative impression. “Mosaic” contains many lyrical passages that echo Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp, and that soften Carter’s insistence on drawing sharp contrasts between instrumental voices. The Quartet for Oboe and String Trio exploits the virtuoso capabilities of Heinz Holliger in a sequence of terse but expressive encounters between the oboe and the string instruments.
“Enchanted Preludes” is the only piece included on both the Neos and 2L discs. The contrast between the two performances is apparent from the opening bars. Where the Norwegian duo tends toward legato phrasing and subdued dynamics, the SCS’ Felix Renggli (flute) and Daniel Haefliger (cello) dazzle with precisely-interlocked rhythms and vehement intensity. Both performances are effective, but I find the Swiss duo more urgent and compelling.
Described on the back cover of the package as “5.0 Channel Surround Sound, real DSD”, the performances were recorded in the studios of DRS, the Swiss public radio network. While the smaller acoustic of a radio studio cannot compare to the more open and reverberant atmosphere of a concert hall or church, the sonic quality of this recording is warm and vivid. Deep notes on the bass clarinet and string bass have weight and definition. String tone is clear and not strident.
Elliott Carter’s music is especially remarkable insofar as it exemplifies the tireless commitment of a composer granted unusually long life, good health and keen faculties, and most important, a willingness to remain engaged in the artistic struggle. The Swiss Chamber Soloists honor Elliott Carter with performances that capture the playful intelligence and emotional depth of Carter’s musical sensibility.
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