Ligeti Cello Concerto Review

Album. Released 2002.  

BBC Review

'Anyone who thrilled to Ligeti's Lux aeterna in the movie '2001: A Space Odyssey' will...

Andrew McGregor 2002

This wonderful newcd isn't supposed to exist. When Sony began their Ligeti Edition in the 1990s, their ambition to record definitive performances of one of the most interesting, influential and consistently entertaining avant-garde composers was widely acclaimed, and the results were spectacularly good. So when Sony quietly pulled the plug on the series after eight volumes there were sighs of despair. In the current climate in classical music, who was likely to pick up the baton and run with it to the finish-line?

Cue Teldec, which back in 1999 was still an independent label operating under the giant Warner umbrella. Teldec picked up where Sony left off, and planned the five remaining volumes that would complete what was now 'The Ligeti Project'. Two volumes in, and Warner's effectively shut down Teldec as a separate record label, and we all expected the Ligeti Project to come to a premature end again. Well, it hasn't; here's Volume III - and the best news is that the last two volumes are already in the can, so unless some Warner Music executive has a rush of blood to the head, this project will be completed. <<whew>>

Volume III of the Teldec Ligeti Project shows us why the series is so important. For instance, Clocks and Clouds from 1973 for twelve female voices and orchestra, which uses an article on the philosophy of science to generate poetic images, a seductive soundworld where the exactly determined rhythms melt into pools of complex chords and microtonal intervals. Anyone who thrilled to Ligeti's Lux aeterna in the movie '2001: A Space Odyssey' will find much to admire and entrance in Clocks and Clouds... how come this is a WORLD PREMIERE RECORDING?!

Sorry, didn't mean to shout...but that's why this series is so important. A score like this from a composer as vital to contemporary music as Ligeti has to be recorded. That it's taken so long is scandalous. The other premiere is a much more recent work: Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedüvel (With Pipes, Drums, Fiddles), a cycle of seven Hungarian songs from 2000 - music as playful and profound as the poems that inspired it.

The Violin and Cello Concertos have both been recorded several times before, but that doesn't detract from the importance of these versions. Sigfried Palm was the dedicatee of the Cello Concerto, and his unique authority combined with the commitment of the ASKO/Schönberg Ensemble and their director Reinbert de Leeuw (rehearsing and recording in the presence of the composer) makes for a memorable account of this shimmering 60s score.

The Violin Concerto, though, belongs with the song-cycle among Ligeti's later works, and again micro-intervals are a vital part of the sound: horns play only natural harmonics, and two of the orchestral string players are scordatura (open strings in non-standard tunings), giving Ligeti an unusual range of chordal textures to play with. The woodwind players are sometimes asked to play ocarinas, those strange lemon-shaped clay whistles with simple finger-holes all over them. Its a lovely sound, and so's the solo part, warmly expressive in Frank Peter Zimmerman's hands.

A superb recording, and fascinating sounds from a contemporary composer who never sounds quite like anyone else, and also writes good notes about his own music. If only all cds of contemporary composers were this interesting, and necessary...

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