Signs, Games & Messages: György Kurtág – 7th May

Photograph of György Kurtág

* Piano Sonatas – E flat, Op.27/1 (quasi una fantasia) & C sharp minor, Op.27/2 (Moonlight)
Sonata for two pianos and percussionKurtág
… quasi una fantasia … Op.27 No.1
Op.27 No.2 ’Double Concerto’
Mysteries of the Macabre

Miklós Perényi (cello)
John Wallace (trumpet)
* Zoltán Kocsis, (piano)
Tanya Bannister & Bryan Wallick (pianos)
Simon Lowdon & Christopher Ridley (percussion)
London Sinfonietta & Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 7 May, 2002
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

This was a model of programme planning – the lucid Classicism of Bartók’s Sonata (1937) at its centre.

It is not necessarily a criticism to say that this was the least impressive performance of the evening. Yet after a suitably suspenseful introduction, the well co-ordinated partnership of Tanya Bannister and Bryan Wallick, ably complemented by Manson Ensemble-percussionists Simon Lowdon and Christopher Ridley, conveyed clarity at the expense of a cumulative intensity in the (for Bartók) lengthy opening movement, with those following a shade clinical in their sustaining of atmosphere and emotion.

As the two composers from post-war Hungary to have achieved international recognition, it makes sense to include Ligeti and Kurtág in the same programme. Melodien (1971), performed here with liquid subtlety, exemplifies the fine-spun polyphony of Ligeti’s ’avant-garde’ years at its most sensuous. Mysteries of the Macabre encapsulates the dangerously anarchic humour of Ligeti’s only (so far) opera through the theatrical cavorting of the trumpet-protagonist – vividly projected by John Wallace.

If Kurtág can seem inscrutable by comparison, then the Op.27 diptych is among the most fully-realised expressions of his musical ethos. … quasi una fantasia … anticipates the orchestral expanse of Stele, linking its four elliptical sections in an intensifying sequence of ominous import – leaning towards potential catastrophe. In both works, the spatial distribution of forces allows for a multi-dimensional presentation of ideas – though whereas in Op.27 No.1 this heightens the soloistic interplay, the ’Double Concerto’ of Op.27 No.2 takes on an orchestral density that recalls the pioneering experiments of Stockhausen and Berio.

Not that Kurtág’s music is other than personal in the way he fashions the shadowy textures of the opening movement into the violent momentum – dance-like only in the flexibility of its onward motion – that follows. The ’Adagio-Largo’ which constitutes the second main portion brings cello (the musingly expressive Miklós Perényi) and piano into focus in one of the composer’s most expansive and affecting ’memorials’, offstage ensembles adding resonance to the enveloping aura of remembrance.

Earlier, Zoltán Kocsis had provided some clues as to the “oblique metaphorical relationship” between Kurtág’s Op.27 with that of an illustrious predecessor. The elusive three-in-one design of Beethoven’s E flat sonata was superbly integrated, while caution was thrown to the wind in the C sharp minor’s collision of dynamics and motion with which the Classical framework is forced apart. The slow movement of Bartók’s Sonata provided a welcome encore, as well as an apposite link into Kurtág’s soundworld.

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