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Ligeti and Kurtág at Carnegie Hall
2011
August
12
Budapest
BMC

Ligeti and Kurtág at Carnegie Hall
BMC CD 162




Tracklist:

1. György Ligeti: Melodien

2-22. György Kurtág: Messages of the late R. V. Troussova, Op. 17

23-24. György Ligeti: Cello concerto

25-28. György Kurtág: Four poems by Anna Akhmatova, Op. 41


Performers:

UMZE Ensemble (artistic director: Zoltán Rácz)
conducted by Péter Eötvös

soloists:
Natalia Zagorinskaya - soprano
Miklós Perényi - violoncello


More info:
www.bmcrecords.hu


On 31 January 2009 in the Zankel Hall in the Carnegie Hall New York, one concert in the series Extremely Hungary was dedicated jointly to the works of György Ligeti and György Kurtág. This disc contains the live recording of the Carnegie Hall concert. (Also played at the concert were Kurtág's cimbalom piece Szálkák [Splinters] , available on an earlier BMC release by Ildikó Vékony [BMC CD 46]], and Ligeti's song cycle Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedűvel [With Pipes, Drums, Fiddles] , which has been released, in a version by Katalin Károlyi and the Amadinda Percussion Group, as The Ligeti Project no. 3 on the Teldec label.)


Ligeti and Kurtág

A deep friendship ran between the two composers, which Ligeti's death in 2006 interrupted only in a physical sense: in Kurtág's memoirs and writings since, he continues to give token of this spiritual, intellectual relationship reaching beyond the grave. If, following the renowned music critic Aladár Tóth, Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály were known as the "twin stars of Hungarian music", Ligeti and Kurtág enter music history as the Hungarian Dioscuri.1

The Transylvanian and Banat roots (both regions belonging to Romania, but with a considerable Hungarian minority), the shared experiences of years studying together - in a period of political dramas and creative crises for Budapest musicians, between 1945 and 1956 - links them just as much as the lifelong influence of Bartók and Hungarian folk music.

Kurtág looked up to Ligeti, from whom he received abundant musical inspiration, with the admiration and enthusiasm normally accorded to an elder brother. And on his way home from his studies in Paris, Kurtág stopped in Cologne, where it was again Ligeti, now living as an émigré in the West, who showed him Stockhausen's Gruppen, and his own electronic work, Artikulation, and this meeting proved to be of decisive importance for Kurtág in starting to compose again. Ligeti was already world famous, and his works were played, analysed, used as film music, his style imitated, when from the beginning of the 80s Kurtág's music too earned the recognition of the public at large. (His breakthrough to the international public was brought by the Paris premiere of the Troussova song cycle, featured on this CD.) Ligeti too was faithful to the friend of his youth: while Kurtág admired the complex thought and musical inventions of his elder colleague, Ligeti gave a sensitive, detailed analysis of the first movement of a "simple" Kurtág work, the op. 27 ...quasi una fantasia

Kurtág's first official visit to the United States was in January-February 2009. So far his music has been much less known there than in Europe. American audiences are more familiar with Ligeti's work, although his Cello Concerto was first played in the Carnegie Hall at this concert on 31 January 2009. One wonders whether the public found the similarities or the differences more striking. Two masters who understand one another perfectly, two oeuvres that complement, counterpoint and comment on one another - though the two compositional styles are indeed quite different. Each listener can decide for himself how distant or akin the two composers' works are. One thing is certain: without them one of the most important chapters in music history since the Second World War could not have been written. And that the innovators of contemporary musical language, who discovered hitherto unplumbed depths of expression, should write music that today seems almost classical, is as surprising as it is heartening. The world of Ligeti and Kurtág is a world full of beauty and suffering, but endurable. More precisely: speaking out about how unbearable the world is makes it bearable after all.

1 - Ulrich Dibelius's term


György Ligeti: Melodien

Compared to the micropolyphony of his earlier works, György Ligeti's Melodien (1971) was innovative in the way that, out of its musical texture acting as a uniform block or undividable process there continuously appear melodies or melodic fragments. The micropolyphonic layers (for example the mechanically shifting chromatic scales, sliding one on the other) - as in his earlier compositions, create the impression of solid matter. It is as if we were listening to a version of a physical or chemical process transformed into music, but from this current, as from an infinite river, time and again the "feature" of one or another melody flashes before us. What is happening here is no rehabilitation of traditional melody and accompaniment; indeed, the individual melodies live out their lives in solitude and mostly independent of one another, out of synchronisation.

The unmistakable traits of Ligeti's musical language are all present in the work. Such for example is the unison spread over several octaves which appears around the middle of the composition, where the process comes to a halt, rests, the sound opens out and the horizon becomes unexpectedly expansive. This "plateau" is typical of Ligeti, and its clear contours are soon blurred by the instrumental voices as they attempt to diverge. The end of the work stretches an infinite vacuum between the highest and lowest registers. This is a new Ligeti hallmark, which conveys the anxiety of fear (of death). Ligeti himself pointed out that Melodien is more abstract and secretive a piece than for instance the Chamber Concerto, composed immediately before it. The characteristic orchestration (celesta, bells, and crotales) glaze the sound with iridescent silver light. Only with the benefit of hindsight can we hear in certain parallel melodies of the two horns an inkling of the melancholy of the Horn Trio composed more than a decade later (1982), or even that of the Violin Concerto (1989-1995) and the Hamburg Concerto (1998-2002).


György Kurtág: Messages of the Late R. V. Troussova, Op. 17

Kurtág is a multilingual composer. Apart from his mother tongue, Hungarian, he has set texts in Russian, English, German, French, Romanian, Ancient Greek and Latin. In this rich, almost Babel-like pandemonium, a special role is given to Russian. In addition to the two works on this disc, also in Russian is the mixed choir piece Omaggio a Luigi Nono (Op. 16), the Scenes from a Novel (Op. 19) for soprano solo, violin, double bass and cimbalom, the four songs for soprano and piano Requiem for the Beloved (Op. 26), and the Songs of Despair and Sorrow (Op. 18) for double mixed choir and instrumental ensemble.

During the decades of Socialism, the teaching of Russian was compulsory in Hungary, and as a result the language was regarded with some distaste. By reason of his age, Kurtág did not learn Russian at school, but discovered its beauty at the age of fifty. He was soon reading Dostoyevsky in the original, and the masterpieces of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian poetry. Russian-language compositions appear in his oeuvre from the turn of the 1970s and 80s. (Troussova was composed between 1976 and 1980.)

For Kurtág, Russian is a "sacred" language, just as Latin was for Stravinsky. In this case, sacred also signifies the highest degree of intimacy: the possibility of gaining insight into the depths of life and death. It is as if Russian were the only language suitable for suffering. Notably, many of the Russian texts set to music by Kurtág are women's poetry, messages from the female soul. An important role in the formation of this intimate relationship between the composer and the Russian language was played by his personal acquaintance with Rimma Dalos, a Russian woman poet living in Hungary, who wrote the texts for Omaggio, Troussova, Scenes, and the Requiem. It is not difficult to see what attracted Kurtág to Rimma Dalos's poetry. The dense poems contain extreme passions and feelings in just as concentrated a manner as Kurtág's music is able to pour into just one note a whole world of mood, an aura, a slice of the past, a series of allusions to the history of music. It is customary to compare Troussova to Schumann's song cycle Frauenliebe und -leben, but it does no harm to point out that Rimma Dalos records a ruined love from the viewpoint of a deserted woman, reflecting her utter loneliness, and bitterness, without glossing over the passion of yearning, nor the burning pain of unsatisfied physical desire. As Stephen Walsh has pointed out, all this is somewhat removed from Chamisso's (and Schumann's) Romanticism. Rimma Dalos's doleful poetry is just as autobiographical in nature as so many of Kurtág's works.

Kurtág's enduring affinity for dramatic effects, gestures and the authentic depiction of the depths of the psyche found an excellent catalyst in the lines of Rimma Dalos's poetry. Though a rounded love story cannot be pieced together from the cycle, it is precisely this fragmentary nature (a substitute for "narrative") which makes the cycle modern and Kurtágian. The composition groups the monodrama of love into three parts of unequal length: I. Loneliness (2 poems), II. A Little Erotic (4 poems), III. Bitter Experience - Delight and Grief (15 poems).

It is neither possible nor necessary to detail here all the strengths of this much-analysed work. The listener will probably notice as the mechanical or obsessive repetition of one or another motif becomes the musical equivalent of feelings and passions, for instance the viola motif, or the rocking motion of the oboe, clarinet and horn in the opening movement "In a space of" (I/1), or the bleak cries of the clarinet in "Pebbles" (III/3). The mechanical, self-induced ecstasy of the voice in "Heat" (II/1) is unforgettable, as at the peak of naked physical desire singing breaks out into Sprechgesang. The other movement conceived in a spirit of wildest sexuality ("Chastushka" , II/4), with its raw folksiness, would suit Stravinsky's Russian period. The haiku-like brief poems of the third part open with "You took my heart" (III/1), which the eerie colours of clarinet, cimbalom, harp and vibraphone conjure into a reformulation of the "Lake of Tears" scene from Bartók's opera Bluebeard. With its downwardly spiralling instrumental parts, the "Autumn flowers fading" (III/6) is a heartrendering musical image of mortality. The vocal passages of "Payment" are interrupted by the stabbing chords of the instrumental ensemble (III/11). "A Plaything" is a delicate musical texture of just one three-note motif, in which the simple recitative of the voice becomes a broader melodic gesture only in the bitter final twist. The closing piece is an intimate trio for voice, horn and double bass. Péter Halász sensitively observed that during the work the horn traces the voice like a shadow, as if weaving into the monologue of the deserted woman the figure of the lost man.


György Ligeti: Cello Concerto

György Ligeti's Cello Concerto of 1966 presents in a classically pure form two characteristic movement types of the composer's idiom: the static "stationary" music and the Aventures-type music made up of wild gestures and swaggering, verging on Surrealism. The two movements of the Cello Concerto develop these two opposing characters from the same basic chromatic material. At the same time the two movements build on the effect of contrasts familiar since Romanticism. While the first movement is characterised by gradual, slow, docile progress (and the typical interval jump is the smallest possible: a minor second "sigh"), in the second movement the movements are as fast as possible, and gestures are characterised by feverish restlessness.

Through the change in colour on a single sustained note, the beginning of the work suggests cosmic notions. And while the contemporary listener may have experienced the play of tone colour as an innovation in musical language, in comparing the movement of the e1 to f1 to the resolution of dissonance, Ligeti reveals the roots of his thinking are in traditional harmony. At the end of the movement, just as in the middle of Melodien, the sounding space opens up to reach out to the frontiers of the extreme registers: between the deep notes on the double bass and harmonics on the cello stretches a vast open expanse. Ligeti himself has said "I wanted to achieve the effect that the music might burst at any moment, like a soap bubble."

The composer liked to push the envelope not just in terms of pitch, but in terms of instrumental difficulty. To match the "empty space" of the conclusion of the first movement, the second movement has a surreal cello cadenza, in which, with extremes of gesticulation, the solo instrument teeters on the brink of playability, disappearing into thin air.


György Kurtág: Four Poems by Anna Akhmatova, Op. 41

The world premiere of György Kurtág's song cycle to poems by Anna Akhmatova was in Carnegie Hall in New York on 31 January 2009. Started in 1997, the composition only took on its final shape in 2008. Bearing witness to the intensely intimate relationship between text and music in this work of Kurtág's is the fact that the composer originally envisaged the songs for one single vocal line; the instrumental ensemble's countermelodies and characteristic colours were added only later.

The Russian language and the identification with a female figure make the Akhmatova songs an organic continuation, or rather a late successor, to the song cycles Messages of the Late R. V. Troussova and Scenes from a Novel. The style of the composition however, particularly the handling of the vocal line, has become simpler, clearer than that in the early cycles, without losing any of its dramatic power of expression.

The first song, Pushkin, reacts sensitively to every word of the Akhmatova poem, which is able to encapsulate a portrait of the great Russian poet in seven dense lines. The second poem (For Alexander Blok) records a visit to the great contemporary poet, and the setting is folky, dance-like, Russian in mood, bringing to the surface the young girl's admiration for the esteemed poet. Weeping-Grieving tells of Blok's funeral, accompanied by a folk orchestra of cimbalom, violin and double bass (the same apparatus Kurtág used in Scenes from a Novel.) Just as in Schumann's cycle Frauenliebe und -leben, after the admiration and erotic desire of the second song, now the woman's soul is troubled by the loss of the beloved, the stage of mourning. The closing song, entitled Voronezh, paints a bleak image of the ice-bound city, the turbulence of history and the horrors of war. In the poet's room, fear and the muse keep watch. In the midst of the terrors of the outside world, only artistic creation offers some respite - a motto the epilogue of the work translates into sound.

Zoltán Farkas
Translated by Richard Robinson


Péter Eötvös

Péter Eötvös is one of the best known interpreters of 20th century music. He was born in Transsylvania, received diplomas from Budapest Academy of Music (composition) and Hochschule für Musik in Cologne (conducting). Between 1968 and 1978 he performed regularly with the Stockhausen Ensemble and collaborated with the electronic music studio of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne. From 1978 he was subsequently named musical director of the Ensemble InterContemporain, a post he held until 1991.

From 1985 to 2008 Péter Eötvös held conducting titles with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Radio Kamer Filharmonie Hilversum, the National Philharmonic Orchestra Budapest, the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. He continues as Principal Guest Conductor of the Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien. Other orchestras he has worked with include the most important radio orchestras in Europe, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra etc. He has also worked in opera houses including La Scala Milan, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Opera de Lyon, La Monnaie Brussels, Festival Opera Glyndebourne, Théâtre du Chatelet Paris, with directors including Luca Ronconi, Robert Altman, Klaus-Michael Grüber, Robert Wilson, Nikolaus Lehnhof, Ushio Amagatsu.

In 1991 he founded the International Eötvös Institute and Foundation for young conductors and composers. Between 1992-2008 he was professor at the Hochschule für Musik in Karlsruhe, and at Cologne's Hochschule für Musik.

Composer, conductor and teacher, he combines all three roles in one very high-profile career. His music features regularly in the programmes of orchestras, contemporary music ensembles and festivals worldwide.

His operas Love and Other Demons, Le Balcon, Angels in America, and Lady Sarashina followed Three Sisters by generating an ever-increasing number of new productions. Eötvös's most recent opera, Die Tragödie des Teufels, was premiered at the Bayerische Staatsoper in February 2010.

He is a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, the Széchenyi Academy of Art in Budapest, the Sächsische Akademie der Künste in Dresden and of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.

www.eotvospeter.com


UMZE Ensemble

The UMZE Ensemble was formed in 1997, in response to an initiative by music historian András Wilheim and Zoltán Rácz, Artistic Director of the Amadinda Percussion Group. In the nearly fifteen years since then the UMZE Ensemble has become a defining feature of musical life in Hungary, and alongside regular appearances at home has accepted important invitations to perform abroad, for instance in Berlin, Karlsruhe, Avignon, Zagreb, and New York, at the Wiener Festwochen, the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival and at one of the most important forums for new music, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.

Since 2005 the ensemble has been supported by the UMZE (New Hungarian Music Society), which aims to act as the spiritual heir to the New Hungarian Music Society originally founded in 1911 by Bartók and Kodály. Hungarian musicians of the highest calibre were involved in forming the Society, including György Ligeti, György Kurtág, Péter Eötvös, Ferenc Rados, Miklós Perényi, and Zoltán Jeney.

The UMZE Ensemble has as its Artistic Director Zoltán Rácz, and its Honorary Principal Conductor is Péter Eötvös.

www.umze.hu


Natalia Zagorinskaya

A renowned interpreter of 20th-century music, Natalia Zagorinskaya has sung vocal cycles by Edison Denisov and his Les Pleurs; Stravinsky's Les Noces; Berg's Lulu Suite; Castiglioni's Terzina; Luigi Dallapiccola's Tre poemi and Commiato; György Kurtág's Messages of the Late R. V. Troussova, Scenes from a Novel, and Requiem for the Beloved; Elliott Carter's A Mirror on Which to Dwell; Jean Barraqué's Chant aprés chant; and Pierre Boulez's Improvisation sur Mallarmé I/II with such ensembles as Contrechamps, Nieuw Ensemble in Amsterdam, and Schoenberg Ensemble.

Zagorinskaya was born in Moscow. After graduating from the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory (as a student of Vera Kudriavtseva) she joined the Moscow Helikon Opera company as a principal and since then has performed in most of its major productions.

Among her opera roles during recent years there are Emilia Marty in the Russian premiere of Janáček's The Makropoulos Affair, Blanche in the Russian premiere of Poulenc's Dialogues Des Carmelites, the title role in Dvořak's Rusalka, Fata Morgana in Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges, Stephana in Giordano's Siberia, and in the Russian premiere of Jay Reise's Rasputin with the Helikon.

Zagorinskaya has appeared at various concert halls, including Los Angeles Radio Hall, Radio France Hall, Victoria Hall in Geneva, and Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam. She has also performed at the Edinburgh Festival, the Helsinki Christmas Festival and repeatedly takes part in the Festival La Batie in Geneva. She has sung with the Düsseldorf Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, and Gulbenkian Orchestra in Lisbon.

In 2009 Natalia performed the world premiere of Kurtág's Four Poems by Anna Akhmatova Op. 41 at the Carnegie Hall (the composer dedicated this piece to her), repeated it with Contrechamp in Geneva and performed his Quatre Caprices with Contrechamp in Geneva and Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris.

In 2010 she sang Zemlinsky's Lyrische symfonie in Amsterdam, Kurtág's Messages of the Late R. V. Troussova in Salzburg and his Four Poems by Anna Akhmatova in Paris, Cologne, Montreal, Amsterdam and Budapest.

In 2011 she took part in Kurtág's 85th anniversary concert in Budapest, performing his Akhmatova and Troussova.


Miklós Perényi

Miklós Perényi was born in 1948 in Budapest, into a family of musicians. In recognition of his musical talent, at the age of seven he was admitted to the class for gifted children at the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy, where he studied first with Miklós Zsámboki, then with Ede Banda. His studies continued under Enrico Mainardi in Rome, where he earned a postgraduate degree (1962). He first appeared before the Budapest public in a solo concert at the age of nine. In 1963 he won a prize at the Pablo Casals International Cello Competition. At the invitation of Pablo Casals he continued his studies in 1965-66, and then again in 1969-72. Of his teachers mention must be made of Albert Simon, his teacher at the Music Academy, who taught him performance and analysis.

Ever since his youth he has given concerts in almost every country of Europe, and has performed in important musical centres in America and Asia. His discs have been released by Hungaroton and other labels (Sony Classic, ECM, Erato, Teldec, etc.)

He is a professor at the Ferenc Liszt University of Music, and has taught there since 1974. His most important awards are the Kossuth Prize (1980 and 2007), the Bartók-Pásztory Award (1987), Chevalier de l'ordre des arts et des lettres (French decoration, 2002), and the Prima Primissima Prize (2007).

Alongside his work as a concert performer, another area in which he is active is composition.
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