There are ghosts on this record. Of course, the gaping maw left by the recent death of Elliott Carter — just shy of his 104th birthday, mind you — still echoes. But there is another spectre here, that of Charles Rosen, not only one of Carter’s staunchest advocates and one of the world’s great writers whose topic happened to be classical music, but among our accomplished and special pianists. So it is unsurprising that the collaboration on Carter’s ferocious mid-’60s Piano Concerto is one for the books, and Bridge has done us excellent service by making this recording (a live recording, but still) available.
This record, this ninth volume in Bridge’s important Carter sequence, is a wonderful place to start for those who might be unfamiliar with — or scared of — Carter’s work. Spanning seven — seven! — decades of his work, this collection acts as an excellent toe-dip. There is a thorough sampling of his later, more high-modernist work for which he is best known, like the behemoth Piano Concerto (in good hands with not only Mr. Rosen but the Basel Sinfonietta under Joel Smirnoff) or the solo piano works Two Thoughts About the Piano and Tri-Tribute (sumptuously rendered by Steven Beck), not to mention or the delightfully twittering, moody, breathy and ferocious Nine by Five (excellently dispatched by the Slowind Wind Quintet), but these are not even the real gems of this de-facto retrospective. Here, alongside the more jagged offerings are a few gorgeous pieces penned by the younger man: the orchestral songs “Voyage” and “Warble for Lilac Time,” thrillingly performed by Tony Arnold and the Colorado College Festival Orchestra led by Scott Woo, show a deft way with harmony and a gorgeous sense of melody — a sense that never left him, just took a radically different turn — as does the positively downright lovely “Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred,” a lilting turn for guitar and soprano (the sensitive David Starobin and Rosalind Rees).
The thrill of this record as a whole (if anyone listens that way) is that these earlier and later works do us the service of informing each other, creating context. But if a lesson is not what you seek, this disc can be listened to for the sheer glory of the sound — from the concerto’s delicious dissonances to the raw emotion of the earlier songs.