This final instalment of the Southbank Centre’s Ligeti in Wonderland weekend focussed on four of the numerous Concertos which extend over the greater part of the composer’s output and which are a pertinent indicator to those stylistic changes that inform his eventful career.
Essentially a concerto of soloists, the Chamber Concerto (1970) underlines that emphasis on inner detail which came to the fore as the 1960s unfolded. If the Aurora Orchestra seemed a little reticent in the limpid ‘Corrente’, the expressive extremes of the ensuing ‘Calmo’ and the often-riotous ostinato interplay of ‘Movimento preciso e meccanico’ were precisely rendered. Nicholas Collon ensured that the final Presto emerged as more than a mere rounding-off, drawing succinctly on various aspects of the preceding movements as it sees the work through to a palpably uneasy stasis.
When it appeared, the Piano Concerto (1988) confirmed the wholesale reassessment of his idiom towards which Ligeti had worked over the preceding decade. From the outset its most dedicated exponent Pierre-Laurent Aimard gauged the heady polyrhythmic collisions of its outer movements unerringly – with the third an ominous intermezzo between the eruptive dialogue then cumulative velocity of those on either side. No other among his major works exemplifies Ligeti’s conviction of going back as the prerequisite for moving forward.
The Hamburgisches Konzert (1999) brings to a head Ligeti’s preoccupation with tunings and intonation, its seven brief movements closer to a divertimento. Marie-Luise Neunecker was understatedly assured in a piece written for her – not least the quodlibet-like succession that links the ‘Praeludium’ with the closing three movements; the luminous harmonies of ‘Spectra’, nonchalant interplay of ‘Capriccio’ and sardonic-tinged resolution of ‘Hymnus’ which the composer added during 2002 in what proved to be his final creative act.
The Violin Concerto (1993) is the most inclusive among Ligeti’s later works, hence it made sense to close the concert thus. Not least when the soloist was Patricia Kopatchinskaja, who galvanised the undulating contours of ‘Praeludium’ as surely as the plangent emotion of the slow movement with its diverse variations on a folk-like tune of artless poise. After the scintillating ‘Intermezzo’, the ‘Passacaglia’ focusses on expressive antagonisms such as the Aurora players imbued with audible conviction, then the headlong jousting of the Finale was capped by a cadenza (the soloist’s own) whose element of performance-art never descended into parody; all the while accumulating a momentum which carried over into the explosive final bars: a spellbinding account of a defining masterpiece from the late-twentieth-century.
Kopatchinskaja duly returned to partner leader Alexandra Wood in Ligeti’s Ballad and Dance (1950), appealing miniatures which belied the Stalinist conformity from which they came. Each of the main works had been prefaced by remarks from Collon and either interviews with the soloists or projections that set the scene in (mostly) informative terms. Thankfully there was no attempt to visualise or illustrate the performances, Ligeti’s music being of a substance and depth as to render any such ‘additions’ wholly superfluous.