KURTÁG (b.1926) CD1
1. … concertante … op.42 [22:34]
2. Zwiegespräch (jointly composed with György Kurtág Jr.) [19:09] CD2
3. Hipartita, op. 43 [29:34]
4. Excerpts from Játékok (Games) and Transcriptions [32:02]
Hiromi Kikuchi (violin) (1,3)
Hakii (viola) (1)
Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra/Zoltán Kocsis (1)
Keller Quartet: András Keller, János Pilz, Zoltán Gál, Judit Szabó (2)
Márta and György Kurtág (upright piano with supersordino) (4)
rec. Kurtág 80 Festival Budapest, 15-19 Feb 2006 (1-3); 17 Nov 2006, Konzerthaus
Vienna, Mozartsaal (4)
Budapest Music Centre BMC CD129 [41:18
many years György Kurtág worked as a teacher in Budapest – relative
obscurity when compared with his current status as one of the
most significant of contemporary composers. During Hungary’s
communist period he composed little, but with the easing of
the political situation he began to produce the sequence of
works for which he is now most widely known. They include Messages
of the Late Miss R. V. Troussova, Scenes from a Novel, … quasi
una fantasia …, Stele and Hommage ŕ Robert Schumann.
in the 1980s did Kurtág’s music begin to be more widely disseminated.
He has never been as prolific as his compatriot Ligeti, and
this is possibly a major reason why he has been overshadowed.
Other reasons include the shortage of works in orthodox, user-friendly
genres such as concerto or sonata, or orchestral compositions.
Many of his chamber works require unorthodox combinations, sometimes
including instruments such as mouth organ, cimbalom and mandolin.
elliptical, austere, Kurtág’s aphoristic pieces or movements,
in which no note is wasted or insignificant, create an impact
and resonance out of all proportion to theirbrevity.
After listening to one of his typically concentrated works,
one may well find much other contemporary music long-winded
and self-indulgent. The Boosey and Hawkes “Composer Page” aptly
describes Kurtág: “Heir to Webernian expressionism, favouring
concentrated miniatures exploring a wide range of human emotions.”
February 2006 Kurtág’s 80th birthday was celebrated
with a five-day series of concerts in Budapest Palace of Arts
and Music Academy. Three of the performances on these CDs are
taken from this festival - three major works all completed within
the last few years. CD2 is completed by a selection from an
ongoing collection of piano studies.
42 is for violin, viola and large orchestra. This compelling
work has a remarkably wide expressive range. This embraces strange
stillness - as at the opening, marked “senza tempo” and again
in the epilogue – and explosive but short-lived violence. There
is also propulsive energy (track 2), writing of mysterious chorale-like
character (track 3), and music of abrupt, declamatory manner
(“recitativo”, track 4).
Zwiegespräch (1999-2006) is a collaboration between the composer and his son, who
is himself in control of the synthesizer in this recording.
This piece also embraces a wide range of expression, the synthesizer
contributing its own considerable variety of noises including
bell-sounds, dripping water and bird-cries. One section, Tempest,
is a solo for the synthesizer. Maybe the string quartet sounds
a little overwhelmed in the most animated of the synthesizer
passages, but perhaps this is the whole point. György Jr. writes
in the CD notes that Zwiegespräch “changes from performance
to performance: today there isn’t one note in common with those
played at the first concert”(!). For this recording even the
order of movements was altered. This music constantly plays
on the listener’s imagination. None of the five main sections
outstays its welcome, and we are left with the haunting stillness
of the final Solace.
the second CD Hipartita (the “hi” being taken from the
soloist’s name) is a half-hour piece, completed in 2004, which
deserves to become a mainstay of the contemporary solo violin
repertoire. Any extended work for unaccompanied string instrument
runs the risk of exhausting the listener’s concentration, but
Kurtág has proved time and again that he is not only a miniaturist
but also a composer able to sustain a longer span.
the eight sections the third, entitled Mountain-climbing,
is appropriately dogged in character. Perhaps this is the first
time that this painstaking activity has been evoked in music?
The seventh section is a perpetuum mobile, while the
slow final Heimweh is a tribute to composer/conductor
Péter Eötvös. Ranging in mood from meditative to playful and
quirky, Hipartita is played with ease and lyricism by
selection of pieces from Játékok (Games) ends
the second CD, taken from a farewell concert in Vienna in November
2006. This is a long-running project consisting of pieces for
piano or piano-duet, many lasting about a minute or less. Titles
include Dirge, Knots, An apocryphal hymn (In
the style of Alfred Schnittke) and Fugitive thoughts
about the Alberti bass. Six of the pieces here recorded
are played by the composer, four by his wife (they have been
married 60 years), and nine by both players at one keyboard.
It should be noted that, as the three encores are repeats of
pieces already played, we are not in fact provided with as many
items as it may appear. Also, applause takes up about half of
the 4:20 listed for track 24. This same track consists of the
loveliest of three Bach transcriptions which are interspersed
with original pieces.
recording is up to BMC’s usual high standard. Anyone mystified
by the piano sound on CD 2 should read the notes – “My father
has composed on this instrument muted with supersordino (as
he called it) for many years, and has grown so fond of its incomparable,
silky tone …” As for the rest of the notes, I offer a further
quote from the composer’s son – “Our aim was not to make the
listener believe he is present at the concert, but somehow through
the sound also to convey the things he cannot see … if we cannot
see the musician, everything changes, even the proportion of
the notes.” (!) Suffice it to say that the microphones have
been used like cameras, moving towards, or retreating from,
the musicians. However, perhaps it is advisable to ignore this
and concentrate on these outstanding performances of some of
the most riveting music composed in the last thirty-forty years.
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