Ligeti
Hamburg Concerto (Hamburgisches Konzert)
Double Concerto (for flute, oboe and orchestra)
Ramifications
Requiem
Marie Luise Neunecker (horn)
Sybille Mahni, Simon Breyer, Thomas Bernstein, Ozan Çakar (natural horns)

Jacques Zoon (flute)
Heinz Holliger (oboe)

Asko Ensemble
Schönberg Ensemble
Reinbert de Leeuw

Caroline Stein (soprano)
Margriet van Reisen (mezzo-soprano)
London Voices
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Jonathan Nott

Recorded 16 September 2001 (Ramifications), 2 October 2002 (Double Concerto) & 3 October 2002 (Hamburg Concerto) in the Muziekcentrum Vredenburg, Utrecht
Requiem recorded live between 8-11 November 2002 in the Philharmonie, Berlin
CD No: TELDEC CLASSICS
8573-88263-2
Duration: 66 minutes
Reviewed: July 2003
Teldec’s Ligeti Project nears conclusion (only one volume awaits release) and, like others in this well-planned series, Volume 4 provides further evidence of Ligeti’s fecundity of invention and thorough integrity of approach. Unlike many contemporary composers, Ligeti is no follower of fashion. He ploughs his own furrow and pays little apparent heed to trends or passing fads. His soundworld is thoroughly individual and the wonder is that the kaleidoscope of sounds he creates often evolves from comparatively small ensembles, or by using traditional instruments in an unpredictable or innovative way.
Such is the case with the Hamburg Concerto, the most recent work on this disc, the final touches being added in 2002. This concerto is for solo horn and chamber orchestra, with four obbligato natural horns. The later often ’frame’ the soloist with harmonics, the resultant chords sounding, in the composer’s own word, "weird". Weird indeed, as the harmonies give the impression of being ’out of tune’. However, being ’natural’ harmonics, they only seem out of tune to those whose ears are unaccustomed to anything other than the ’tempered’ keyboard tuning upon which European music has been based for the past 300 years or so. No matter how initially disconcerting, the sonorities and harmonies Ligeti employs are utterly mesmerising.
There is little use of the horn in its traditional hunting or fanfare mode, though to be sure there is what sounds like a call-to-arms at the start of the second movement (’Signale, Tanz, Choral’), and there are two sections in which an uneasy, if not queasy, swing style is thrown into the mix, with bongos and slapped double bass adding pungent rhythmic punctuation. Marie Luise Neunecker, the dedicatee of the concerto, encompasses the phenomenal difficulty of the solo part with ease; the range of sound she conjures from her instrument is extraordinary.
The Double Concerto, for flute and oboe, dating from 1972, likewise explores sounds not normally encountered from the instruments concerned – in this instance, microtones, which are intervals smaller than a semitone. Careful adjustment to lip pressure and fingering, when applied to the wind instruments, enables a new range of timbre to emerge. Flute and oboe often duet with each other – in at least one instance seemingly trying to vie for who can reach the highest notes. Unexpectedly, it is the oboe that succeeds. An alto flute is also used and far from being warm and expressive, as is often the case, it emerges as a sinister voice indeed, particularly in its very lowest register where microtonal inflections are especially noticeable. Heinz Holliger and Jacques Zoon execute the solo parts with exemplary accuracy and with a surprising degree of mellifluous expression in places.
Ramifications for 12 solo strings (1968/9) uses two groups of six instruments – one of which is tuned a quarter-tone lower than the other. Again, the result is disquieting and the overall texture suggests a much larger body of instruments than in fact is the case.
Leonard Bernstein often articulated the notion that “the crisis of the 20th century is the crisis of faith”. Certainly the ambience of Ligeti’s Requiem has very little of the customary comfort about it. Indeed the music is probing, questing and troubling, as was much sacred or sacred-inspired music of the 1960s. Like Penderecki’s St Luke’s Passion, Ligeti’s Requiem is an example of a setting that does not necessarily take the text at face value. Thus the ’Kyrie’ (Lord have mercy) is a thorny experience with the voices spreading into as many as twenty parts, whilst the ’Dies Irae’ is hysterical in its mixture of anger and defiance.
Whilst all but the Hamburg Concerto have been previously recorded, these new performances can safely supplant their predecessors. The Asko and Schönberg Ensembles under Reinbert de Leeuw are remarkably accurate in articulation and cohesion. There is no sense of struggling with the notes, which has often been a factor in performances – recorded or otherwise – of this music until comparatively recently. The old Wergo recording of the Requiem has its admirers, and whilst its earthy, raw quality is not to be gainsaid, Jonathan Nott has the advantage of more confident and polished performers, with Caroline Stein fully measuring up to the almost super-human demands of the solo soprano role. A warmer recording from the Philharmonie in Berlin also enables greater detail to emerge.
No texts are provided, unfortunately, and whilst Ligeti’s own whimsical notes are welcome, a more detailed descriptive introduction to each piece would have been useful. Nevertheless, this volume is no less distinguished than its predecessors and I await with impatience the final instalment of Teldec’s Ligeti Edition.

 

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