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György LIGETI (b.1923)
The Ligeti Project, Vol.5

Aventures, Nouvelles Aventures (1962-65)
Artikulation for tape (1958)
Eight Pieces from ‘Musica ricercata’ (1950-53)
Sonata for Solo Cello (1948-53)
The Big Turtle Fanfare from the South China Sea (1949)
Ballad and Dance (1950)
Old Hungarian Ballroom Dances (1949)
Sarah Leonard (soprano), Linda Hirst (mezzo), Omar Ebrahim (baritone)
Max Bonnay (accordion), David Geringas (cello), Peter Masseurs (trumpet)
Asko Ensemble
Schoenberg Ensemble/Reinbert de Leeuw
Recorded at Studio for Electronic Music, WDR, Cologne, Feb.1958 (Artikulation), Sendesaal Deutschland Radio, Cologne, March 1995 (Musica ricercata), Stichting Muziekcentrum, Hilversum, Sept. 2000 (Fanfare), Muziekcentrum Vredenburg, Utrecht, Sept. 2001 (Ballroom Dances, Ballad and Dance), Teldex Studio, Berlin, May 2002 (Cello Sonata) and live at the Theater Felix Merites, Amsterdam, May 2002 (Aventures, Nouvelles Aventures)
TELDEC CLASSICS 8573-88262-2 [67’12]


This is, apparently, the very last volume in what started as the Sony Ligeti Edition and ended up as the Teldec Ligeti Project. The overall aim was to build up a ‘definitive’ recorded archive of the composer’s complete output, and virtually every disc has been universally praised, not least by me. Standards of performance have been astonishingly high, sound quality first rate, liner notes (by the composer) concise but uniquely insightful and programming of the music stimulating.

As the last disc, this does at first seem to have the feeling of a ‘mopping up’ exercise, with quite a bit of juvenilia and some tiny ‘ditties’. But once again, taken as a whole, the music on offer here is never less than interesting, and at best absorbing and entertaining. The meatiest items here are undoubtedly Aventures, Nouvelles Aventures, Ligeti’s astoundingly original experiments in what the human voice is capable of. Scored for three singers and seven instruments, it comes from possibly his most radical period in the early 1960s, and is easily on a par (certainly in terms of shock tactics) with Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs for a Mad King or Berio’s Sequenza III.

This could be classed as ‘music, but not as we know it’, and the singers are called upon to emit all manner of weird and wonderful sounds. Ligeti admits to trying an emulation of his electronic ideas with human voices, so forget text and translations here. Instead, it’s best to just give yourself over to the aural experience, and possibly have a giggle at the same time. In fact, the reaction of mirth from my son and his friends would, I’m sure, not have upset the composer at all; rather he would be glad to have provoked a reaction at all, as 1960s radicalism so enjoyed doing. The panting and gasping at the start may worry anyone not in the room that you are watching a porn movie, and later, as the mood gets angrier, you may feel someone is in serious pain. But that seems to be the whole point – to be provocative, controversial, make you sit up and take notice, which it certainly does. The live performance (I would love to have been there) is sensational, with some well known, seasoned singers going well beyond the call of duty.

The short tape piece Artikulation comes next and demonstrates the link Ligeti speaks of between his vocal and electronic experiments. Unlike Aventures, it sounds slightly dated now as studio work has advanced so much, but it is an effective example of doodlings in musique concrète.

After these experiences, the rest of the disc will either strike you as welcome relief or too ordinary to bother with. Personally, I like to hear this sort of juxtaposition, as it shows how far a composer’s musical language has developed. It is also clear from the notes that Ligeti has a soft spot for these earlier works. The Musica Ricercata started out life as eleven piano pieces which were later transcribed for the bayan (a type of Russian accordion) by the Paris accordion virtuoso Max Bonnay. Though its piano roots are clear in many places, it works well for this instrument and gets an excellent performance here.

The Big Turtle Fanfare is a 37 second piece for solo trumpet, a melodic remnant from incidental music Ligeti wrote for a Chinese puppet play. The Cello Sonata is also quite short (around 8 minutes) but is packed full of invention and expressive mood swings. It may well be the discovery of the disc for some.

The final items fittingly go back to the composer’s Bartókian folk roots. The Old Hungarian Ballroom Dances were written while he was still a student at the Budapest Musical Academy, and were the result of a specific request by radio producers for music to ‘cultivate the national heritage’. This it certainly does, most of the material coming from the same ethno-musical sources as Bartók and Kodály. The Ballad and Dance explores similar territory, this time for school orchestra, and uses material that crops up later in his nationalistic Romanian Concerto, already featured on Volume 2.

This disc may not tell you anything terribly new about Ligeti, but once again high standards of production, performance and presentation are in evidence and make this a very fitting end to an invaluable series.

Tony Haywood

Earlier volumes 1 2 3 4

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