Alpha is launching a collaboration with the Ensemble Intercontemporain and its new artistic director, composer-conductor Matthias Pintscher. This new series will alternate 20th-century landmarks and new works, providing an opportunity to show to advantage the great quality of the EIC musicians in the major masterpieces of the last century and to discover scores by composers of the 21st century.
A countryman of Bela Bartók and a sometime teacher to both György Ligeti and György Kurtág, Sándor Veress emigrated to Switzerland from what was then part of Hungary in 1949. Settling in Bern, he collected various prizes and teaching posts while working in relative obscurity on who knows how many pieces–most of which have been unavailable. This collection is made up of a pithy trio of compositions dated 1938 (Six Csárdás), 1951 (Hommage à Paul Klee), and 1952 (Concerto for Piano, Strings, and Percussion), and they show what a deftly melodic force Veress was. He's thrilled by blustery string wafts, especially in the concerto, where the percussion adds drama and immediacy. But he also favors sweetly chipper string formations, which surprise the ear during the homage to Klee, especially given the dissonances fostered early on by the twin pianos. The closing piano miniatures of Six Csárdás are counterpoint-rich gems, played with sharp precision by András Schiff.
In 1961, the young Hungarian composer György Ligeti did a pretty amazing thing: he wrote a piece called Atmospheres, in which almost nothing happens, extremely slowly. The European avant-garde was still obsessed with quantifying musical parameters, with crystallizing pitch, duration, timbre, and register into rigid regions, radiating with speed and hardness – and then Ligeti cast out this massive orchestral goo, the enemy of all geometries, devoid of contours and as slow and gaseous as a trip through Saturn. A paean to all mysterious and intangible, Atmospheres initialized both a brilliant swerve from the music of its time, and a kind of life-journey for Ligeti's own incipient voice: a musical vision on the verge of disintegration, inventively trying to put itself back together, to re-integrate.
The unifying idea of the concerto provides a way to get a handle on György Ligeti's experimental spirit, for a concerto here represents several fundamentally different things. The Cello Concerto of 1966, right at the height of Ligeti's exuberantly fearless adventures in 1960s Germany, might almost be called an anti-concerto, with the cello doing its best to hang on the edge of silence. Sample the very first movement, both for the precision of cellist Christian Poltéra's work at the low end of the dynamic spectrum and for the ideally clean engineering work by the BIS label, operating in a variety of Norwegian venues and mastering them, well, masterfully. The Chamber Concerto for 13 Instruments and the Melodien are essentially concertos for orchestra, with distinctive roles for each of the instruments, while the five-movement Piano Concerto, completed in 1988, is a fine and technically demanding example of Ligeti's later pulse-based, polyrhythmic style. Throughout, Norway's BIT20 Ensemble, a group of flexible size, delivers superb Ligeti performances, with the requisite laser-like focus on individual details but not losing a certain liveliness and humor that underlie it all. A superior Ligeti album.
ALthough not very famous, Jeno Jando is a marvelous pianist. He combines lyrical beaty with power and emotion. Both of these attributes are evident in this disc, which contains the piano concertos of Grieg and Schumann, both in the key of a-minor. In Grieg's concerto, Jando creates a perfect balance between Lisztian virtuosity and Grieg's own Norweigan nationalism. The Schumann concerto is my favorite piece on the album, and Schumann's raw emotion comes out perfectly in Jando's interpretation. A word should also be said for the wonderful orchestration of these pieces. This is a wonderful CD both to introduce these romantic piano concertos and to offer a wonderful interpretation of them.
Ligeti’s works on this disc provide an excellent cross-section of the metamorphosis in his compositional technique over a period of 30 years. The Violin Concerto incorporates influences from Medieval and Renaissance music, from late Romantic music and various contemporary styles.