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Sofia GUBAIDULINA (b. 1931)
Musical Toys (1969)
Unsuk CHIN (b. 1961)
Six Piano Études (1995-2003)
György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Musica Ricercata (1951-3)
Mei Yi Foo (piano)
rec. Studio Odradek, December 2011
Track-listing at end of review
ODRADEK 855317003028 [67.17]

The earliest works on this collection are György Ligeti’s set of twelve pieces entitled Musica Ricertata – the title means “researched music” or possibly “sought music”, although this is not explained in the booklet notes. They were written as compositional studies when the composer was still living in Hungary, but were not performed until 1969 by which time he had settled in Germany.
We are told in the extensive and informative booklet notes by Hugh Collins Rice that “Ligeti had no hope of hearing performances of music which challenged the Soviet orthodoxies”. In fact there is little trace here of the more avant-garde style by which he would become known for such pieces as the Lux aeterna and Requiem which established his reputation when they were featured in the film 2001. Instead there is an obvious indebtedness to Bartók. This is intermingled with a series of experiments around the use of chromatic tones which reflects without adopting the serial style of Schoenberg. The music is readily approachable, if hardly easy to play.
Ligeti may have had problems with his progressive compositions in Hungary, but the similar difficulties faced by Sofia Gubaidulina in Russia were far greater and lasted for a much longer period. On the other hand Musical Toys is not music that should have given the cultural commissars much cause for complaint. They were written as pieces for her young daughter – although the difficulty of the writing presupposes an adult player – and have charmingly ingenuous titles which would appeal to a child. The booklet notes don’t explain the genesis of the pieces, but recognise that these early pieces range over a wide field of tonalities and techniques. A number of the pieces are clearly descriptive, such as the persistent rapping of The woodpecker, and others such as the beautiful Song of the fisherman have a modal simplicity.
The studies by Unsuk Chin, on the other hand, are not simple pieces at all. Although the composer studied with Ligeti, they don’t betray much of his influence; they are an attempt to write virtuoso etudes which continue the techniques of Liszt into the twenty-first century. As such they are by a considerable margin the most modern music on this disc, with sounds conjured from the piano which seem like a less extreme version of Cage or Boulez. Although some of the textures which the composer conjures from the keyboard are interesting, there is nothing here that immediately grabs the attention. The opening movement, entitled In C, has nothing to do with the minimalist style of Terry Riley, but sounds more like an expansion of Debussy’s fascination with the gamelan. The other pieces are more obviously avant-garde.
The pianist in a note on the sleeve makes a rather bizarre recommendation that the tracks on this CD might be listened to in an order which mixes up the three works and the very different styles of the three composers. This might make for an interestingly varied recital, but it must be said that a better impression is gained of the three sets of pieces when they are listened to as a unit.
The performances, so far as I could judge, are impressively correct, and the recorded sound is excellent. Certainly worth a listen for the adventurous.
Paul Corfield Godfrey

Sofia Gubaidulina
Musical Toys (1969)
I Mechanical Accordion
II Magic Roundabout
III The Trumpeter in the Forest
IV The Magic Smith
V April Day
VI Song of the Fisherman
VII The Little Tit
VIII A Bear Playing the Double Bass and the Black Woman
IX The Woodpecker
X The Elk Clearing
XI Sleigh with Little Bells
XII The Echo
XIII The Drummer
XIV Forest Musicians
Unsuk Chin
Six Piano Études (First Recording) (1995 - 2003)
I In C
II Sequenzen
III Scherzo ad libitum
IV Scalen
V Toccata
VI Grains
György Ligeti
Musica Ricercata (1951-3)
I Sostenuto - Misurato - Prestissimo
II Mesto, rigido e cerimoniale
III Allegro con spirito
IV Tempo de Valse (poco vivace - «ŕ l'orgue de Barbarie»)
V Rubato. Lamentoso
VI Allegro molto capriccioso
VII Cantabile, molto legato
VIII Vivace. Energico
IX (Béla Bartók in memoriam) Adagio. Mesto - Allegro maestoso
X Vivace. Capriccioso
XI (Omaggio a Girolamo Frescobaldi) Andante misurato e tranquillo