Seen and Heard Concert
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Keller Quartet, Wigmore Hall, 18 May, 2005
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
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
Etudes: Aimard Sony Classics SK62308
String Quartets: Arditti Quartet, SK62306