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.
This Teldec collection was a project close to György Ligeti’s heart – the pioneering Hungarian composer was actively involved in the recording process up until his death in 2006. The artists had long-standing relationships with Ligeti and his work, both in the studio and in concert: pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Schönberg and Asko Ensembles led by Reinbert de Leeuw.
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.
Italian sisters Natascia and Raffaella Gazzana deliver a sensitively performed survey of French music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, alongside a nod to modern Hungarian composer György Ligeti. They place Franck’s monumental Sonata in A Major at the heart of their program, its second movement Allegro blazing with passion, the final Allegretto beautifully restrained yet unleashed in the closing bars. Ravel’s Sonate Posthume is a fascinating document of a 22-year-old composer’s development, in thrall to early Impressionism, while Messiaen’s equally youthful “Thème et Variations,” played with sparkling clarity and poise, shows a composer ahead of his time. Ligeti’s direct musical language functions almost as a refreshing sorbet among the French riches.
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.