Elliot Carter: Oboe Concerto, ''Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux,'' ''A Mirror on Which to Dwell,'' ''Penthode''
Elliot Carter, at 82, is everybody’s idea of a respectable composer: handsome, charming, literate, and inscrutable. Critics and program-note writers thrive on the mechanisms in his music, where everything is assembled like high-tech clockwork: instrumental group A with this many notes and this kind of rhythm, combining with B, at a given distance from C. But clockwork is valueless unless it also tells time, and the end product of most of Carter’s manipulation — even the virtuosic Oboe Concerto composed in 1987 for the astonishing Heinz Holliger — is a series of clocks without hands. Where is the passion in this music, the secret messages from composer to hearer that tell us why idea number two is the logical outgrowth of idea number one? This is music that lends itself to exhilarating performances (as here), with little to justify it all taking place. B-