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Seen and Heard Concert Review



Kurtág, Adčs: Valdine Anderson (soprano), Thomas Adčs (piano), The Keller Quartet, Krzysztof Chorelski (viola), Corin Long (double bass) Wigmore Hall, London, 20.09.06 (AO)



There’s no better venue for Kurtág’s intimate miniatures than the Wigmore Hall.  Even the Jugendstil décor reflects times when Budapest was an Imperial city.  Kurtág’s music is so delicate that it could be baroque chamber music heard in private circles.


True to form, the programme did not include well known pieces like the Kafka Fragmente, recorded several times over, or even Messages from the late R V Troussova, which would have used the same resources.  Instead, it started with Three Old Inscriptions, from graves in Hungarian cemeteries.  Epitaphs sum up a person’s life in a few short words, in the same way as this composers stark setting. 


Since many in this audience have German, they could concentrate more attentively on Einige Sätze aus den Sudelbüchen Georg Christoph Lichtenbergs.  These tiny phrases are like snapshots, capturing only a moment in a much larger drama.  Als unsere selige Kuh noch lebte”, sang Anderson, darkly serious.  But the punchline came next “said a woman in Göttingen”.  Kurtág’s built in a witticism, which Anderson underlines :  “Kuh” is long drawn out, like the drawl of a peasant in G-öö-ttingen !  She acts a lot of these mini dramas, sighing and holding her hands up to her face in mock horror, and it fits  Kurtág’s quixotic style.  The aphorisms may have been written in the mid 18th century, but some are right up to date, even the references to “Goths and Vandals” taking up all the hotel rooms in Italy !  Anderson was accompanied by Corin Long on double bass, providing a spare, almost downbeat commentary.  He really does play with “Schwung” when needed, and sounds like a jazz man when he plucks and bows to the snippet Der gute Ton.


Thomas Adés had accompanied Anderson in the first set of songs,  but now it was time for his own Arcadiana, played by the Keller Quartet,  well known Kurtág specialists.  They warmed to his style, with enthusiasm, for Adčs, too, writes with wit and economy.  Each of the seven movements is a little drama on its own, literally “Lieder ohne Wörte”, especially given that there are subtexts, such as the reference to Schubert’s Auf dem Wassern zu singen.  The fourth section is longest and the centre of gravity, though “gravity” is perhaps not the word to use to describe something so lively that it includes sounds like an exhaling balloon and skittish, chattering cross hatches of bows on wood and a long bass line, which ends suddenly in four staccato chords. The elegiac sixth section is followed by one called “Lethe” where Adčs seems to be bringing in the pentatonic before it culminates in yet another, pompousness-destroying exhalation.


More inventiveness followed in Doodles for András Milhály, a Keller Quartet speciality.  The violas stayed on the platform, but the violins stood high in the gallery, at each side.  In the middle, the bass stood, like a bridge.  Chorelski’s  playing, though well integrated with the  group, was specially mellifluous.  Adčs returned to play the Prelude and Chorale from Játčkok with great panache.  Then, Anderson came back, to sing Kurtág’s Attila Jósef Fragments. Twenty short songs in an unfamiliar language are a challenge, to sing as well as to listen to, but Anderson pulled it off fairly well.  The piece works, like so much of Kurtág, like a group of snapshots arranged to form a collage : it’s the total impression that counts as much as the images themselves. 


More movement of instruments on stage heralded the Keller’s return in 6 Moments Musicaux, a composition from only last year.  Discordant and melodic by turns, it was animated and adventurous. By Kurtág standards, this was almost a symphony, as the sections held together  as a coherent whole.  Yet it retains the contemplative spirit “beyond sound”, the silences and pauses acting a s kind of breath.  From recent Kurtág to Adčs’s early work, Five Eliot Landscapes.  Up to this point, the two composers were on the same wavelength, so to speak, and  exploring the interplay between their works was fascinating.  Perhaps a different piece might have worked better in context.  But by this stage in the concert, I was well satisfied by what had gone before.




Anne Ozorio



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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)