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Elliot Carter - Symphonia

Carter: Symphonia
Composed in his mid-80s, Symphonia is the most recent and perhaps the finest of all Carter’s pieces for orchestra – a work which, as the title suggests, both is and is not a symphony. Its first two movements, Partita and Adagio tenebroso, were actually premiered separately, although it’s impossible to argue with the strange but compelling logic of the final three-movement work. The work’s generous scale (three quarters of an hour) and dynamic energy are astonishing evidence of Carter’s creative longevity, but they also, in common with other recent pieces, possess a new-found clarity and simplicity – at least in Carter’s terms – of style. After the muscular opening Partita, the central slow movement, Adagio Tenebroso, shows Carter as his simplest but most eloquent, touching rare expressive depths. The finale, Allegro scorrevole, is a magical, will o’the wisp creation which flies past before ending, in one of twentieth-century’s most daring conclusions, on the single, high voice of a solo piccolo.

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Symphonia; Clarinet Concerto: BBC Symphony Orchestra; Michael Collins; Oliver Knussen

Carter’s supreme interpreter, Oliver Knussen, leads the magnificent BBC Symphony Orchestra through a breathtakingly confident and idiomatic performance of Symphonia which is unlikely to be surpassed by any other living conductor. The puckish – if altogether more lightweight – Clarinet Concerto completes the disc, with Michael Collins the excellent soloist.

Sheet Music by Carter