Natalie Clein, whose previous recording of the music of Ernest Bloch was described as ‘inspired’ by The Sunday Times, turns to his three suites for solo cello as part of a recital of works written in the aftermath of the Second World War. The sombre voice of the cello seems especially apposite in music of such deep seriousness, Ligeti’s short sonata providing an energetic and life-affirming finale.
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.
The ensemble London Winds, praised by BBC Music for its 'technical accomplishment, expressive commitment and warmth of timbre', presents in this recording great twentieth-century works for winds. It features music by Hindemith, Nielsen, and Janáček, and, from the next generation, Barber and Ligeti. Although not equally prolific (Kleine Kammermusik is Hindemith's single contribution to that genre while winds are generally more prominence in Nielsen's music), all these composers brought the wind repertoire back to prominence, after a quiet period of more than a century. The music is full of playfulness and European folk colours.
These chamber works bring Sony's adventurous, timely Ligeti series to a natural pinnacle. Long the challenger of stylistic stasis and customary demonstrations of excellence, Ligeti has outdone himself here (as he did with the fantastic Mechanical Music release). The Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano (1982) challenges its players to stay in step with each other even while expanding virtuosity to the breaking point. Marie-Luise Neunecker plays such full horn parts that they roll flow over the tonal bounds, as does Saschko Gawriloff's violin and Pierre-Laurent Aimard's piano… –Andrew Bartlett..