Ligeti Volume 7
In common with previous volumes in the series, this issue presents music from the 1950s and 1960s (Ten Pieces, Bagatelles) to the 1980s and 1990s (Horn Trio, Viola Sonata). I’ve had reservations about the resulting stylistic schizophrenia, but here the works are more evenly matched in terms of quality than elsewhere. Those looking for a specific reason to buy this disc need look no further than the account of the Horn Trio, Ligeti’s homage to Brahms, a work which has become a classic of its kind (to judge by the number of recordings – this is the fifth by my count). What distinguishes this version is the astonishing horn-playing of Marie-Luise Neunecker. It is no disrespect to her rivals to say that the horn part in this piece has always seemed fiendishly difficult (no doubt it is); but the impression of near-effortlessness and breadth of dynamic range Neunecker conveys are hardly likely to be bettered. As to her companions, they have both recorded the Trio before (each on different labels), and their experience is audible. I find this interpretation especially effective at projecting the music’s multiple levels and layers. As to its expressive power, even those who find Ligeti’s later music problematic can hardly deny the poignant, tragic beauty of the concluding Lamento.
The two sets of wind pieces are given polished, bravura performances by London Winds. The Bagatelles are among the composer’s most convincing music from Ligeti’s pre-Western period; as to the Ten Pieces, they plough the same furrow as those two masterpieces from the same year (1968), the Second String Quartet and Continuum for harpsichord (and the Chamber Concerto, begun the following year); but they are altogether more lightweight, their brevity almost provocative when heard against the broader canvas of those other works.
Provocative in a very different way is the Viola Sonata, completed in 1994. Ligeti’s increasing reinvestiture of diatonicism has rarely seemed less ironic; yet his protestations against being considered a ‘post-modern’ composer are increasingly difficult to accept at face value. Is this the jester’s double-bluff? That is for the listener to decide. But listen you must, to Tabea Zimmermann’s commanding and expressive playing, and to a composer for whom confounding the critics’ expectations has always been second nature.'