Oppens Plays CarterOppens Plays Carter

The Complete Piano Music

Cedille Records

Night Fantasies
Two Diversions
– World Premiere Recording
Piano Sonata
Two Thoughts About the Piano – World Premiere Recording of Caténaires
Ursula Oppens, piano

Today, being the 100th birthday of Elliott Carter, seemed to be the most appropriate day to post a review of the new and expanded Complete Piano Music of Elliott Carter, this time recorded by longtime Carter advocate Ursula Oppens and released on Cedille Records (as opposed to the now incomplete Rosen recordings on Bridge). Of course, at the rate that Carter is still cranking out music, I’m sure a new Complete Piano Music two-disc set will be in our near future.

To be honest, when I saw Oppens and Carter on the same disc, I was pretty sure I was going to like it. I could have written you a review of the disc without even hearing it. Oppens is a powerhouse of technique and sensitivity and she plays Carter with a surprising effortless quality. Even thorny, ominous works like Night Fantasies flow smoothly from her fingers. The piano music of Elliott Carter and the piano technique of Ursula Oppens go together as well as gin and vermouth. This is an awesome disc and one that should be in your collection if you dig the music of Carter. It is a no-brainer.

In comparison to the Rosen recordings, Oppens’ tempi are generally quicker (shaving over a minute off of 90+) and her piano timbre is cooler and more crystalline than Rosen’s warmer and richer sound. The Rosen recordings are, to my ears, a bit more ponderous while Oppens chooses a more mercurial and fluid approach. Anyone that tells you that music of such complexity and detail as Carter’s is going to sound the same no matter who plays it clearly doesn’t know what they are talking about.

Oppens, of course, performs everything to the highest possible caliber. Of particular interest to me were the works receiving their premiere recordings. Matribute is a sparse and lurking work, full of single low notes and scrambling bursts of higher textures. Carter then stands the work on its head in the final minute with a gradual accelerando and humorous “stinger” ending. Centénaires is a wild, romping, monophonic perpetual motion. Coming off of the rich and thick harmonies of the Piano Sonata, Centénaires is refreshing and invigorating. It makes you want to start the disc over again. And I’m going to be spinning this disc a lot.

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