Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Le Grand Macabre
Philharmonia Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen. Sibylle Ehlert, Laura Claycomb, Charlotte Hellekant, Jard van Nes
Sony S2K 62312 [102:27]
  Amazon UK

With this work avant-guarde composer György Ligeti presents "opera." (He put quotes around the word himself.) Ornery to the core, Le Grand Macabre uses musical instruments to simulate non-musical effects. Before its scenes there are two car horn preludes and a doorbell prelude. These frisky and brief introductions are amusing in the same way as Marcel Duchamps' famous found urinal sculpture. In fact, the entire plot is retro-Dada: Piet the Pot, a forever tipsy, professional wine-taster, is abducted by Nekrotzar, the Great Macabre, a personification of death. We meet court astrologers who engage in S & M and a confused Prince Go-Go, who reigns in Breughelland, a place where the two political parties have no differences at all. (Sound familiar?) This anti-music is cacophonous and occasionally clever, such as a concluding Passacaglia done in mock classical style. Squawking sprechtstimme inflates the non-musical segments with volume lacking substance. Inevitably, the work's constant anarchic energy wears thin. There is just too much grunting, squealing, and fall-flat satire. Thirty five years ago I must have anticipated hearing Le Grand Macabre for the first and only time, because I wrote: "Sometimes in the melting day/There are eons of hours to endure."

Peter Bates

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