The Ligeti Project – 3

0 of 5 stars

Cello Concerto
Clocks and Clouds
Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedüvel: Weöres Sándor verseire
Violin Concerto

Siegfried Palm (cello)

Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)

Cappella Amsterdam

Katalin Károlyi (mezzo-soprano) &
Amadinda Percussion Group

Asko/Schönberg Ensemble
Reinbert de Leeuw

Recorded 12-16 September 2001 at Muziekcentrum Vredenburg, Utrecht, and 7-9 April 2001 at Teldec Studios Berlin (Síppal…)

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: February 2003
Duration: 68 minutes

Having welcomed Volume 2 of this important series as “an ideal introduction” to the music of Ligeti, I now have to concede that, in many ways, this third volume is even more recommendable in this regard. That earlier release contained such classics as Lontano and Atmosphères along with representative late works and the attractive early folk-music-inspired Concert românesc. The present issue offers two concertante works, which have been recorded before, with two vocal pieces in première recordings and taken in total offer a broad perspective on Ligeti’s thoroughly individual soundworld.

The Cello Concerto offers formidable challenges to the soloist who is required to produce a fantastic array of sound from the instrument, from wide-ranging leaps to the most delicate bowing involving microtonal intervals. Emerging from a most eerie opening, the music develops into somewhat restless dialogue between cello and ensemble – a comparatively small group from which Ligeti draws a seemingly inexhaustible range of colours. Between these passages of restive activity, there are moments of almost unearthly calm, with the occasional major chord peering through like a ray of light on a troubled horizon.

On this well-planned disc, where careful thought has evidently gone into the ordering of the pieces, Clocks and Clouds follows. Again the sonority of this music is quite fascinating, with 12 female voices taking, as it were, a colouristic role. There is no text as such, but rather sounds from the International Phonetic Alphabet are blended and combined with instrumental timbres to form what might be termed an ’impressionistic’ texture. In spite of the title, there is very little that is mechanical about the composition, although the opening evocatively suggests the passage of time; it is, instead, the clouds which are superbly evoked in a 1970s’ echo of Debussy’s Nuages and of Ligeti’s further exploration of the sounds he was exploring in works like Atmosphères. Microtones and major chords once more co-exist to create a quite haunting ambience. It is surprising that it has taken nearly thirty years for a recording of what must surely be one of Ligeti’s masterpieces.

The Violin Concerto is in five unconventional movements (as is the Cello Concerto in two) and, within these, Ligeti explores traditional forms such as aria, hocket, chorale and passacaglia. The soloist is treated very much on a ’first amongst equals’ basis, with extensive sections of ideas passed between violin and chamber orchestra. The bustling first movement leads straight into the opening ’aria’ of the second, with a most poignant melody given out unadorned on the violin. Throughout this concerto, the range of invention on display is extraordinary, as is the variety of sounds conjured from, sometimes, a quite small group of instruments. Ligeti’s beloved ocarinas are often to be heard, as when they answer the soloist’s ’aria’.

To conclude, we have settings of Hungarian poet Sándor Weöres in Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedüvel (With Pipes, Drums, Fiddles) which are uproarious fun – on occasions suggesting a manic rendition of Walton’s Façade. A solo mezzo-soprano (here the astonishing Katalin Károlyi) is accompanied, if that is the right word, by a huge array of percussion in verses which are sometimes nonsensical (two of the texts “cannot be translated”) and in one instance quite touching – the penultimate and aptly-titled “Bitter-Sweet” where Ligeti sought to combine “artificial folk music with a pop-like melody” – and very affecting it is too.

Ligeti is notoriously difficult to please but he must surely be more than satisfied by the performances Teldec have gathered together. Siegfried Palm is the dedicatee of the Cello Concerto and, whilst he has recorded it before, here his playing has the ease and confidence which can only be borne from long association and performing experience. Frank Peter Zimmermann, in perhaps rather surprising repertoire for him, is even more flamboyant than Saschko Gawriloff, for whom the Violin Concerto was written and who has recorded it with Boulez on DG. Zimmermann and Reinbert de Leeuw find more fun and caprice in the work and, throughout, the Asko/Schönberg Ensemble’s playing is beyond reproach, as is the contribution of Cappella Amsterdam. Teldec’s clear but not clinical sound allows every strand to register.

Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedüvel was written as recently as 2000 and proves that, at nearly 80 years old, Ligeti’s wellspring of creativity has by no means been drained dry. Long may he – and Teldec’s Ligeti Project – flourish.

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