The Ligeti Project – 5

0 of 5 stars

Nouvelles Aventures
Artikulation for Tape [2-channel mix-down]
Eight Pieces from “Musica ricercata”
Sonata for Cello Solo
The Big Turtle Fanfare from the South China Sea
Baladă şi joc (Ballad and Dance) after Romanian Folksongs
Régi magyar társas táncok (Old Hungarian Ballroom Dances)

Sarah Leonard (soprano)
Linda Hirst (mezzo-soprano)
Omar Ebrahim (baritone)
Schönberg Ensemble
Reinbert de Leeuw

Max Bonnay (accordion)

David Geringas (cello)

Peter Masseurs (trumpet)

Asko Ensemble & Schönberg Ensemble
Reinbert de Leeuw

Artikulation recorded February-March 1958, Studio für elektronische Musik, WDR, Cologne; down-mix in February 2003
Musica ricercata – 11 March 1995, Sendesaal Deutschland-Radio, Cologne
Big Turtle Fanfare – 5 September 2000, Stichting Muziekcentrum, Hilversum
Ballad and Dance – 14 September 2001, Muziekcentrum Vredenburg, Utrecht
Aventures; Nouvelles Aventures – 17-19 May 2002, Theater Felix Merites, Amsterdam
Cello Sonata – 17-19 May 2002, Teldex Studio, BerlinBallroom Dances – 4 October 2002, Muziekcentrum Vredenburg, Utrecht

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: October 2004
Duration: 67 minutes

Like others in this commendable series, this fifth and, I believe, final, volume of Teldec’s Ligeti Project, enshrines music that reflects the remarkable range of the composer’s style. In this instance, some of what might be termed ‘experimental’ works are to be found alongside pieces firmly rooted in the musical soil of Ligeti’s Hungarian homeland.

Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures – dating from 1962-1965 – are the most recent works on the disc. These extraordinary pieces – for three singers and seven instrumentalists – utilise extremes of vocal articulation, with virtually no conventional singing whatsoever. Instead, a bewildering array of sounds is to be heard, demanding astonishing virtuosity from the singers. As a purely aural experience, they are likely to prove either fascinating or irritating, since this is music that needs to be seen as well as heard. The performers’ pyrotechnics are part and parcel of the total experience. This is a rare example of direct duplication between the Teldec Project and the aborted Ligeti Edition on Sony, as a performance of Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures appears on Sony’s Volume 4, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Recorded live, Reinbert de Leeuw and his team enter fully into the anarchic spirit of Ligeti’s concept, with some of the vocal moments sounding positively manic. But these pieces are also well served by Boulez on DG’s 20/21 series, whose slightly po-faced direction and the less ‘over the top’ vocalising is actually rather funnier – and, perversely, more sinister – than the de Leeuw performance, effective though that is on its own terms.

In his booklet note, Ligeti writes of his tape piece Artikulation (1958) as resembling “an abstract language”, and that the Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures were a realisation of the same idea using human voices. Artikulation was also Ligeti’s first “western” composition following his move from Hungary, and it sounds decidedly discomforting though, oddly, perhaps not so disconcerting as the voices in the two sets of Aventures. There are no really recognisable tonal sounds at all, but juddering and wide-ranging sonorities make for intriguing listening. At just under four minutes’ duration, it is to Ligeti’s credit that the piece is not too long – a fate not avoided by all composers of electronic music of whatever kind. The piece was intended for 4-channel playback but has been mixed down for stereo. This incarnation is much more successful than others have been at eliminating hiss and distortion.

Max Bonnay plays eight pieces from Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata, originally written for piano. Bonnay transcribed these for bayan – a type of Russian accordion – played here on the conventional instrument. These pithy pieces are alternately contrapuntal and folk-like in character, one distinctly indebted to Petrushka, and there are other Stravinskian influences in some of the others – whilst that inscribed to the memory of Bartók has a degree of defiance, if not anger, about it. The characteristic sonority of the accordion is intriguing, though the percussive attack of the piano original is missed in places.

Tougher fare follows in the succinct two-movement unaccompanied Cello Sonata. Dating from 1948, with the second movement following in 1953, there is a brooding air of melancholy that suggests late Shostakovich or Britten though, of course, Ligeti’s sonata pre-dates both. Most surprising is the pure major chord that ends the work, following music of a distinctly uneasy character. David Geringas gives a compelling reading.

The Big Turtle Fanfare – all 35 seconds of it – was extracted from incidental music for a Chinese puppet play and heralds the final works on this absorbing disc – the Ballad and Dance (after Romanian Folksongs) for school orchestra, and the Old Hungarian Ballroom Dances which are not ‘original’, in the sense that they are transcriptions of dance melodies from around 1800. They are undeniably attractive, with an inevitably nostalgic air. The instrumentation is aptly and expertly done for flute, clarinet and strings. I kept wondering whether Johann Strauss knew any of these melodies, since the Czardas from “Die Fledermaus” kept springing to mind. The Ballad and Dance are a well-contrasted pair, and the ghost of Bartók once again hovers over the latter, with its infectious rhythmic and tangy melodic writing. The combined Asko and Schönberg Ensembles under Reinbert de Leeuw capture the spirit of these pieces ideally.

As others in Teldec’s Ligeti Project, this makes for an attractive programme though, once again, one regrets the absence of detailed notes about the actual music. Fascinating – and touching – though Ligeti’s printed reminiscences are, some introductory material would have been welcome. However, this should not be off-putting to those who have been collecting the series, or to newcomers to the work of this enthralling composer.

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