is obviously a young lady of no ordinary
talent. She has bravely chosen to record
the piano works of György Ligeti
and therefore treads directly into the
territory of Pierre-Laurent Aimard,
that composer’s interpreter par excellence.
Aimard’s fairly recent accounts of Ligeti
at the Wigmore Hall (October last
year, ) still ring in the ears -
they made an extraordinary impression.
It takes a special sort of bravery,
there is no other word for it, to tackle
these scores head-on. The very sight
of the printed page will scare most
off. To interpret them with musicality
and intelligence, as Lucille Chung has
done, is no small achievement.
Book II of the Etudes,
in case you are wondering, was included
in her first Ligeti disc for Dynamic
(CDS358). Impressive programming, then,
to present the remaining two books we
have so far, along with some works for
two pianos (the Drei Stücke)
and piano duet (the Fünf Stücke).
The Six Etudes
that make up Book 1 constitute some
of the most inspired piano writing of
the twentieth century. No small claim,
true, but every time I hear them I realise
there is more to discover, a seemingly
infinite well of ideas. The first, ‘Désordre’,
is nightmarish for the pianist in its
relentless speed. Chung opts to present
it almost like a Nancarrow player-piano
piece (Aimard brought more of a sense
of shape, and also excitement, to it),
yet at the climax (1’30), she sounds
a little careful.
Chung’s strengths lie
in the creation of the beautiful in
sound, so the second Etude, ‘Cordes
à vide’, is a crystalline drawing.
‘Touches bloquées’ is the most
impressive of the set, however, a Ligeti
playful Scherzo if ever there was one.
Similarly the obsessive scalic fragments
against legato chordal figures of ‘Fanfares’
is great fun. The fanfares are recognisable.
You can almost hear Chung thinking ‘horns!’
as she plays.
Alas ‘Arc en ciel’
is less successful, probably because
Chung seems to try to apply Chopinesque
rubato to music that won’t take it.
A shame, as she evidently realises the
sheer beauty of the harmonies; the glittering
descents of ‘Automne à Varsovie’
almost make up for it.
Chung responds well
to the varied demands of the four Etudes
from Book 3 here. The slow-moving, hyper-beautiful
‘White on White’ (1995) is really lovely,
ending like a music-box winding down.
The more martellato ‘Pour Irina’ (composed
for Darmstadt, so perhaps the ‘harder’
exterior should be unsurprising) reveals
Chung’s finger-strength. I just can’t
decide whether the end is supposed to
be cheeky or not - maybe Chung couldn’t,
The manic ‘A bout de
souffle’ is more relentless writing.
Here more mania from Chung would be
welcome. The piece should surely sound
as if the player or the composer is
experiencing wild panic. That quality
should be communicated to the audience,
especially as it would make an even
more marked contrast to the final ‘Canon’
whose glacial beauty Chung projects
The disc kicks off
with two sets for piano duo and piano
duet. The Drei Stücke for
two pianos is less demanding fare, with
its deliberately irritating repeated
octaves in the first piece (‘Monument’)
before the two players gradually part
company. The more approachable, teasing,
Ligeti is present in ‘Selbstportrait
mit Reich und Riley (und Chopin ist
auch dabei’) with its nod to minimalism,
becoming skittish before turning, later,
to the violent. The delicate final piece,
(‘In fliessender Bewegung’) reverses
the process of ‘Monument’, the players
beginning apart and slowly congealing
into a disembodied chorale. All is here
crystal clear, although there is a characteristic
‘ping’ to some of the upper notes -
characteristic, that is, of the Yamaha
pianos used throughout this disc.
The Five Pieces are
sweetly Bartókian, even attaining,
in the last of the ‘Three Wedding Dances’
that together constitute the third piece,
the carefree. Only the second piece,
‘Polifón etüd’ (‘Polyphonic
Etude’) is truly grey.
then. Do try to hear the smaller pieces
at least once as they afford much delight,
but it is the Etudes that provide
the main course, and very filling they