KURTÁG Kafka Fragments
Although he had written several major song and instrumental collections over the preceding three decades, it was Kafka Fragments (1987) that established beyond doubt György Kurtág’s centrality to European new music; it now ranks among the most performed and recorded of his works. This new account features two leading exponents from the younger generation, in a reading that brings out the formal and expressive continuity perceptible across its often violent dislocation of mood and syntax – in what is less a portrait of the eponymous writer than an evocation of time, place and (above all) emotion via the extracts of Kafka’s writings, ranging from scattered words to cohesive sequences. The 40 separate fragments are divided into four groups (of 19, one, 12 and eight numbers), linked less by a definable concept than an intuitive sense of what constitutes unity within the author’s bleak and fractured world-view.
It is in this latter respect that Caroline Melzer and Nurit Stark make so gripping an impression – characterising the many fragmentary shards with an explosive intimacy that finds its corollary in the few strategically placed longer settings, notably ‘The true path’ (20), which comprises the second part; the emotional duality effected by ‘Scene on a tram’ (32) and ‘Too late’ (33) at the end of the third and start of the fourth parts; and ‘The moonlit night dazzled us’ (40), which makes for a typically fatalistic conclusion. It all adds up to a lucid and persuasive reading. Those who have the excellent versions by Tony Arnold or Juliane Banse need not rush to acquire it, though it is a likely first choice for those new to this enigmatic and intriguing work.