Get Carter!

Schoenberg
Five Orchestral Pieces, Op.16
Carter
The Minotaur – Suite
Symphony No.1

Guildhall Symphony Orchestra
Diego Masson


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 12 January, 2006
Venue: Music Hall, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London

As well as the concerts, film and talks of the main “Get Carter!” Weekend, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama is hosting several events leading up to it.

This one featuring the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra and Diego Masson will be heard again as part of the Weekend and focussed on two of Elliott Carter’s (relatively) early scores, each diverting as well as intriguing in not being typical of Carter when heard in the hindsight of his complete output.

Carter (born 1908) remains a creative force, and the opportunity to hear pieces such as The Minotaur (1947) and the 1942 Symphony (revised in 1954) are reminders of Carter’s contrapuntal abilities in writing in a neo-classical idiom. Yet for all the evidence of a Stravinsky/Copland axis in these works, there is much that is personal and individual, as well as resourceful and skilful.

The suite from The Minotaur is a ballet score initiated here by a fine oboe solo by Steve Hudson that is then contrasted by more solemn brass-dominated material. This admirable tension was well conveyed by the performers and maintained over 25 minutes or so with some excellent and poised playing that sustained Carter’s vital and shapely invention, sometimes on the cusp of ‘breaking free’ – which stylistically Carter was on the verge of doing, of course – yet within a tightly organised scheme that reveals both the composer’s mettle and searching.

The Symphony has the capacity to touch nerves, especially in the second movement (‘Slowly, gravely’), and the outer movements – the first alternating pastoral and strongly rhythmic elements, and the finale having a wholly winning ebullience with its jaunty ideas and foot-tapping accents and syncopation – both surprise and delight on their own terms and in retrospect to the musical paths that Carter explored later.

Under Diego Masson’s affable and lucid direction, the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra responded with playing both dedicated and thoroughly prepared, whether in the ‘meshing’ of tuttis or in the many opportunities for solos. Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces (played in the composer’s 1922 scaled-down but still fulsome orchestration) opened the concert, the first Piece splendidly clear if notably under tempo; yet any thoughts that Masson was being overly-conscious of his young charges were banished with thoroughly idiomatic accounts of the remaining movements of Schoenberg’s radical writing and then in winning renditions of the Carter works.

Indeed, in terms of repertoire and the ability to bring it off, this was an impressive and heart-warming evening, a perfect start to “Get Carter!” – and when this programme is played again this Sunday (15 January), once more in the Music Hall, at 4.30 (and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3), then it will be well worth catching.

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