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György LIGETI (1923-2006)
The 18 Études (1985-2001)
Cathy Krier (piano)
rec. June and October/November 2020, Chamber Music Hall of Philharmonie Luxembourg. CAVI-MUSIC 8553036 [57:52]
Ligeti’s Études are the kind of musical mountain that not all pianists will be willing to climb, and the ones that do have to hold themselves to standards that mean that, while the number of recordings is growing, none that I know of are a truly poor representation. Cathy Krier has a fine pedigree and a busy schedule. Wolfgang Rihm has composed for her, and she has made several highly regarded albums on the CAvi-music label, including a programme that combines Ligeti’s Musica ricercata with works by Rameau.
My main reference for these pieces has for a while been Fredrik Ullén’s complete Ligeti piano music on the BIS label (review), which is hard to beat on just about every level. Ullén tends towards faster tempi in general, and the blistering, perhaps too blistering Désordre that opens his Book 1 makes Krier sound a bit pedestrian, and certainly a touch less confident. The piano sound is good enough with this Philharmonie Luxembourg recording, though is a bit thicker in the mid range, lying somewhere between close intensity and concert hall atmosphere. Slow etudes such as the following Cordes à vide are given nice expressiveness, which Ligeti of course steers into wilder territory as the piece progresses. The interlocking rhythms of Touches bloquées are effective but not as clearly etched as by Ullén, but Krier’s touch in Arc-en-ciel has a Chopin-esque quality which is delicious.
Every piece in these three books of Études is a highlight of one kind or another and, all comparisons aside, Cathy Krier’s performances mostly stand on their own terms as a fine collection. The ecstatic heights of Galamb Borong are remarkable as ever, and the slower tempi in Vertige and L'escalier du diable let us hear things we might not have previously noticed. Anyone who can get their instrument to sit up and beg as is demanded by Der Zauberlehrling has my undying respect, though I was less convinced by Krier’s rather leaden “Coloana infinită”. Book 3 has À bout de souffle which Krier plays with suitable urgency.
Looking around at other competitors, Idil Biret’s Naxos recording (review) is missing Book 3 of the Études as this hadn’t been completed at the time of recording, and the same goes for Pierre-Laurent Aimard on the Sony label. Other incomplete recordings include Lucille Chung on the dynamic label (review). As for complete sets you should be aware of Danny Driver on Hyperion CDA68286 (review), and Thomas Hell’s muscular performances on Wergo WER6763-2. Cathy Krier by no means has the market to herself, but while not an absolute first choice I’ve largely enjoyed and been impressed by this recording.