The London Sinfonietta plays Elliott Carter. A short programme – but not short measure.

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Elliott Carter: London Sinfonietta, Hall Two, Kings Place, 8.9.2011 (MB)

Eight Pieces for Four Timpani (excerpts)
esprit rude/esprit doux
esprit rude/esprit doux II

This is a brief review for a brief concert, but size is not everything, as this collection of solo and chamber works by Elliott Carter demonstrated beyond doubt. Members of the London Sinfonietta proved sure guides in a programme that above all displayed the life-enhancing quality lying at the heart of Carter’s œuvre. Form and its interplay with time lies at the heart of these (relative) miniatures, likewise – and audibly, despite what many might tell us – those intervallic preoccupations and implications that mark one of the most intriguing musical paths beyond Webern. (Carter stands closer to his countryman Milton Babbitt than one might suspect.) Certainly having the flute soloist in esprit rude/esprit doux initially announce the Boulez motif – this is Carter’s sixtieth birthday gift to his esteemed colleague – and his clarinettist colleague the response, leaving aside the tritone as the interval that (ironically?) would ultimately unite, provided an excellent way in for the audience. esprit rude/esprit doux II followed on seamlessly, with the beguiling addition of the marimba. Gra, the composer’s clarinet tribute to Lutosławski, lived up to its (Polish) gaming title, full of risk and fun, whilst Carter’s rhythmic explorations were heard to perhaps surprisingly tuneful effect in two of the Eight Pieces for Four Timpani. Studies they may be, but so after all are Chopin’s. Finally, and in many ways the highlight, came Figment for solo cello. Here, in Carter’s eighty-fifth birthday present to himself, was a work clearly written for the instrument rather than a work written and instrumented. One inevitably thinks back to Bach in such a setting, but there was no doubt of the personal, frankly emotional voice sounded here: a highly dramatic song without words.

Mark Berry