This album of Elliott Carter’s adventurous early chamber music is designed to appeal to newcomers, as well as aficionados of this renowned contemporary American composer. "Early Chamber Music of Elliott Carter stands out amid Carter CDs because it’s accessible from beginning to end," says producer Jim Ginsburg. "The selections are certainly substantial enough to appeal to the composer’s hard-core fans, but without discouraging the uninitiated." The pieces, from 1945 to 1950, are "early" in the body of work that made Carter (b. 1908) famous, not the products of a novice composer.
The beginnings of Carter’s signature style are evident in these works. "Both musically and chronologically, they occupy a tantalizing middle ground between wartime populism and postwar modernism," Stephen Heinemann writes in the booklet notes.
Carter’s lyrical, aptly named Pastoral for clarinet and piano is reminiscent of Copland, and even Bernstein. Carter has described it as "quite an individual piece." Of particular interest is how the second theme evolves from the preceding material rather than entering in contrast to it.
Carter’s Woodwind Quintet presents jaunty themes, propelled by jazz syncopations. Carter says he "attempted to individualize each instrument, assigning a different character to each one, and that procedure anticipates some of my later writing."
His breakthrough work, the powerfully dramatic Sonata for Cello and Piano, maps out innovations Carter has continued to pursue for more than fifty years. "It is a work of moderate length and astonishing breadth, dramatic in its presentation and novel in its form," Heinemann writes.
Eight Etudes and a Fantasy for woodwind quintet are a set of ingenious miniatures exploring different compositional devices, culminating in a brilliant fugue. Carter’s trademark technique of "metric modulation" (not the composer’s term), a seamless, systematically controlled change of tempo, is clearly audible in the Fantasy.
The Chicago Pro Musica (members John Bruce Yeh, clarinet; Easley Blackwood, piano; Richard Graef, flute; Alex Klein, oboe; William Buchman, bassoon; and Daniel Gingrich, flute) won a 1986 Grammy Award for "Best New Classical Artist" for recordings of twentieth-century music. The ensemble has a keen interest in living composers, notably Carter. In 1995, it gave the world premiere of Carter’s Esprit Rude / Esprit Doux, II and has given the Midwest premiere of other Carter compositions.