Etudes Book 2
Lucille Chung (piano)
Recorded January & March 2001 (no location given)
Reviewed by: Timothy Ball
Reviewed: March 2003
CD No: DYNAMIC CDS 358
Ligeti’s piano music is starting to be more widely represented on CD. There is an ongoing series on BIS, with Fredrik Ullén, and although Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s contribution to Sony’s Ligeti Edition appears to have been deleted, Idil Biret has recently recorded the two books of Etudes for Naxos.
Lucille Chung can more than hold her own in this company and her recital is an excellent programme in its own right. In her hands, many of these pieces take on a rather less forbidding character than they can assume with some other players, and Chung responds readily to the particular style determined by each piece. In chronological terms, the Caprices (1947) and Invention (1948) are the earliest, though placed sensibly between the two lengthier works on this CD. Here, the music is somewhat less thorny than in some of the later pieces, with some attractive, folk-like melodic moments which perhaps call to mind the piano music of Bartók whose rhythmic drive is also a feature of Ligeti’s writing. These shifting metres are fluidly realised by Chung who, here and elsewhere, finds a welcome degree of charm and wit, making Ligeti’s invention seem less austere than is sometimes the case.
More substantial is the second book of Etudes (1988-93). The title ’study’ can suggest a dry form, but Ligeti often adopts a surprisingly lyrical approach. The set as a whole is well contrasted, with some quasi-impressionistic movements alternating with more intractable music, such as the rapid pulsation that is a feature of Etude 10 (No.4 of this second book). The set culminates in a violate finale with forceful and extreme dynamic indications. Once again, Chung delivers considered and convincing performances, and the more virtuosic moments, such as rapidly moving scales at the extremes of the piano’s register, are delivered effortlessly. Her pedalling, too, is worthy of praise, for she never allows the sound to blur and, where appropriate, individual notes or lines are clearly brought out without any undue distraction or point-making.
Chung’s integrity and technical facility is further evinced in Musica Ricercata (1951-53). As implied by the archaic-sounding title, homage is paid to earlier models, such as those of Bartók (in whose memory the ninth piece, marked ’Mesto’, sadly, is touchingly dedicated) and, perhaps surprisingly, in the concluding fugal ’Omaggio a Girolamo Frescobaldi’. There is a neo-classical feel to many of these short pieces, which may surprise those who only know Ligeti through atmospheric orchestral sonorities or disquieting choral sounds. No.8 is a Stravinsky-like ’Vivace’, bi-tonality rears its head in No.10 (shades of Milhaud?) and there’s a deliciously ironic waltz (No.4). Perhaps most startling is the opening, with its play on a single note in different octaves – Lucille Chung’s dedicated and affectionate playing captures these multifarious moods. If ’affectionate’ is perhaps a surprising description, Chung not only has these often fearsomely demanding pieces well within her technical grasp, she seems genuinely fond of them too.
The piano is realistically recorded, quite closely but with enough space to prevent any feeling of dryness. One quibble is the booklet note is not terribly detailed or idiomatically translated from the Italian; also the CD could have contained more music. Neither remark should serve as a deterrent from acquiring a most pleasing CD recital, which would serve well as an introduction to this composer. Lucille Chung is a gifted pianist whom I look forward to hearing again.