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Seen and Heard Concert Review

Ligeti Concert Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Keller Quartet, Wigmore Hall, 18 May, 2005 (CC)

Pierre-Laurent Aimard is Ligeti’s ambassador extraordinaire, it would seem. His championship of the (now nineteen) Etudes has made audiences cheer around the world, and it is always a salutary experience to see as well as hear him negotiate these works of distinctly limited playership.

This time he was sharing the honours with the Keller Quartet, who gave the Quartets Nos. 1 & 2, one at the beginning of each half. The First Quartet was written in 1953/4 and is really a sort of proto-Ligeti - as the composer himself puts it, ‘my first steps to the real Ligeti music followed after finishing this quartet’. Bartók surfaces from time to time (in his night-music mode) and there is also a sense of play and discovery that is unsurprising from a composer then only just turned thirty, The background idea is interesting – variation-like without a real theme to be varied.

It is a fine piece in its own right, including a tipsy waltz and some quasi-otherworldly writing on string harmonics. The Keller Quartet (a group which has shown great affinity to the music of Kurtág) played with dedication, although some accents (following the ‘tipsy waltz’) could have carried more excitement.

The Second Quartet was an extended interjection between Etudes (coming as it did right at the beginning of the second half). Written in 1968 and in five movements this time, gestures that were to be known as ‘typically modern’ abound (the pizzicato/sudden stasis of the opening being a case in point). The Keller Quartet negotiated this difficult score with real assurance, although some of the outbursts could conceivably have been even angrier.

This Second Quartet is far more gestural at heart and is similarly unafraid of the whispered – indications such as ppppp must pepper the score (especially in the pizzicato-dominated ‘Como un meccanismo di precisione’, a sort of homage to the Scherzo pizzicato of Bartók’s Fifth Quartet). Again, more brutality seemed to be in order in the ‘Presto furioso’ fourth movement, but there is no doubt that I for one want to hear more of the Keller Quartet.

Really, though, in performance terms, it was Aimard’s night. We heard twelve of them (not in order – they were grouped 7; 8; 3; 4-6 then after the interval 12, 10, 11, 1, 2, 13). Aimard can move, chameleon-like between them in whatever order he chooses, that much is clear; from the beautiful, restful, jazz-inflected ‘Arc-en-ciel’ (no. 5) to the deep bass resonances of ‘Galamb borong’ (No. 7, the first Etude heard) through to a memorable projection of ‘Automne à Varsovie’’s unbearable sadness, where huge registral spaces unsettled the listener. In the second group, the gamelan-laced ‘Entrelacs’ (No. 12), the sheer beauty-in-speed of No. 10 (‘Der Zauberlehling’ – ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’) and the rich harmonies of ‘En suspens’ (No. 11) all threw into relief the player-piano simulation that is ‘Désordre’ (No. 1). Perhaps it was the massive aggregations of sound that characterise ‘L’escalier du diable’ (‘The Devil’s Staircase’ – funnily enough, No. 13) that were most impressive.

Aimard is one of the few pianists today who seems so totally at home in contemporary repertoire (although Ian Pace should be mentioned, too, in this regard). But in the final analysis, the night belonged to Ligeti.

Colin Clarke

Further Listening:

Etudes: Aimard Sony Classics SK62308
String Quartets: Arditti Quartet, SK62306




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)