|Keller Quartett — Ligeti String Quartets / Barber Adagio (2013)|
Keller Quartett — Ligeti String Quartets / Barber Adagio
Ξ The Keller String Quartet is fluent in modernist music and is associated with the ECM New Series label.
György Ligeti born: May 28, 1923 in Discöszentmáton, Transylvania
Died: June 12, 2006 in Vienna, Austria
Genre: Classical, Avant-Garde
Styles: Modern Composition, Chamber Music, Choral, Keyboard, Experimental Electronic
Samuel Barber born: March 9, 1910 in West Chester, PA
Died: January 23, 1981 in New York, NY
Styles: Orchestral, Vocal Music, Chamber Music, Choral, Concerto, Keyboard, Opera
Keller Quartett formed: 1987 in Budapest, Hungary
Location: Budapest, Hungary
Album release: April 30, 2013
Record Label: ECM New Series 2197 (481 0026)
01 String Quartet No. 1 (Métamorphoses nocturnes) György Ligeti 22:08
02 String Quartet, op. 11; Molto adagio; Samuel Barber 7:43
03 String Quartet No. 2 (1968); I. Allegro nervoso; György Ligeti 4:51
04 II. Sostenuto, molto calmo; 4:48
05 III. Come un meccanismo di precisione 3:37
06 IV. Presto furioso, brutale, tumultuoso 2:10
07 V. Allegro con delicatezza — stets sehr mild 5:36
Ξ András Keller
Ξ János Pilz
Ξ Judit Szabó
Ξ Ottó Kertész
Ξ Péter Bársony
Ξ Zoltan Gal
Ξ Zsofia Kornyei
Tracks 1 & 2 plays:
Ξ András Keller violin
Ξ János Pilz violin
Ξ Zoltán Gál viola
Ξ Judit Szabó violoncello
Tracks 3 — 7 plays:
Ξ András Keller violin
Ξ Zsófia Környei violin
Ξ Zoltán Gál viola
Ξ Judit Szabó violoncello
Recorded: June 2007 and October 2011 (String Quartet No. 2), Radio Studio DRS, Zürich
Tonmeister: Peter Laenger
Cover Photo: Caterina di Perri
Liner Photos: Tamás Almási (p. 3), Andrea Felvégi (p. 4), Ines Gellrich (p. 6), Gordon Parks / Getty Images (p. 15), Marco Borggreve / Ullstein Bild (p. 16)
Design: Sascha Kleis
Produced by Manfred Eicher
An ECM Production
> 2013 ECM Records GmbH
< 2013 ECM Records GmbH
Review by Blair Sanderson; Score: ****½
Ξ György Ligeti was a member in good standing of the musical avant-garde of the mid-20th century, while Samuel Barber was, at the same time, one of the most prominent neo-Romantic composers. They would seem to be an odd couple on this 2013 release on ECM New Series, for Ligeti's two string quartets and Barber's Molto adagio from the String Quartet No. 2 (known in various arrangements as "Barber's Adagio") appear to come from opposing camps, if not different worlds. Yet the Keller Quartet demonstrates that there is not a huge gulf between these pieces, and that there are good reasons for placing Barber's placid elegy as a contrasting piece between Ligeti's more adventurous studies of string sonorities and extended effects. While some listeners will be fully prepared for the dissonant counterpoint and rough textures of Ligeti's String Quartet No. 1, Barber's Adagio works well as a kind of palate cleanser, and provides an opportunity to rest and take stock before advancing to the more agitated String Quartet No. 2. Even so, Ligeti's string quartets have their share of searching, introspective expressions, rather in the vein of the quartets of Béla Bartók, so listeners don't have far to jump to appreciate the choice of pieces. The Keller Quartet is certainly adept at playing both conventional, tonal music and more experimental, atonal music, and their performances are utterly convincing and beautiful. Ξ ECM's exceptional reproduction contributes to the attractiveness of the package, so this CD is an appealing presentation of works that set each other off admirably.
Artist Biography by Robert Cummings
Ξ György Ligeti was one of the most important avant-garde composers in the latter half of the twentieth century. He stood with Boulez, Berio, Stockhausen, and Cage as one of the most innovative and influential among progressive figures of his time. His early works show the influence of Bartók and Kodály, and like them, he studied folk music and made transcriptions from folk material. In Apparitions (1958-1959) and Atmospheres (1961), he developed a style forged from chromatic cluster chords that are devoid of conventional melody, pitch and rhythm, but instead grow into timbres and textures that yield new sonic possibilities. The composer referred to this method as "micropolyphony." In Aventures (1962), Ligeti devised a vocal technique in which the singers are required to make a full range of vocalizations, cries and nonsense noises to fashion a kind of imaginary, non-specific drama, but with rather specifically expressed emotions. Ligeti was almost alone among progressive composers from the latter twentieth century who have written popular and widely performed music.
Ξ Ligeti was born on May 28, 1923, in the Transylvanian town of Dicsöszentmárton, Romania and grew up in Kolozsvar, Klausenburg. At the age of 14, he began taking piano lessons and soon wrote his first composition, a waltz.
Ξ Because he was a Jew living under the Nazi-puppet regime in Hungary, Ligeti was forbidden university study and thus enrolled in the Kolozsvar Conservatory in 1941, and began studies with Ferenc Farkas, a Respighi pupil. Later, in Budapest, he also studied with pianist-composer Pál Kadosa.
Ξ In January 1944, Ligeti was arrested and sent to a labor camp where he remained imprisoned until 1945. Other family members were sent to Auschwitz, where only his mother survived. Ligeti graduated from the Budapest Academy of Music in 1949 and began an extended period of study of folk music.
Ξ In the years of 1950-1956, he served as a professor at the Budapest Academy. His music was largely unadventurous during this period, owing to restrictions by the Hungarian Communist regime. Ligeti and his wife fled their homeland during the Revolution in 1956, settling in Vienna. Ligeti began studying and composing at the Cologne-based Electronic Music Studio from 1957 to 1959, producing the influential Artikulation (1958), one of his first electronic works.
Ξ Other important progressive works followed, such as the orchestral composition, Apparitions (1958-1959) and Atmospheres (1961). In 1959, Ligeti began serving as visiting professor at the Academy of Music in Stockholm and also started teaching courses at Darmstadt.
Ξ His choral work Requiem (1963-1965) was another success, as were Ramifications (1968-1969), for string orchestra or 12 solo strings, and Clocks and Clouds (1972-1973). In 1972, Ligeti became Composer in Residence at Stanford University and the following year took on a professorship at the Hamburg Academy of Music. Ligeti composed his opera Le Grand Macabre in the period 1975-1977, but revised it in the 1990s, with the final version completed in 1997. It has become one of his most popular large works.
Ξ In 1982, the composer's mother died. That same year saw a return of Ligeti's health after a period of five years' sickness. In the 1980s the composer forswore further composition in the realm of electronic music. Ligeti retired from his post as professor of composition at the Hamburg Music Academy in 1989. In the 1990s, he spent much time on the aforementioned second version of Le Grand Macabre.
Ξ Ligeti received his share of awards and prizes, including the 1986 Grawemeyer Prize and the 1996 Music Prize of the International Music Council.
Ξ György Ligeti was a member in good standing of the musical avant-garde of the mid-20th century, while Samuel Barber was, at the same time, one of the most prominent neo-Romantic composers.
Ξ They would seem to be an odd couple on this 2013 release on ECM New Series, for Ligeti’s two string quartets and Barber’s Molto adagio from the String Quartet No. 2 (known in various arrangements as “Barber’s Adagio”) appear to come from opposing camps, if not different worlds. Yet the Keller Quartet demonstrates that there is not a huge gulf between these pieces, and that there are good reasons for placing Barber’s placid elegy as a contrasting piece between Ligeti’s more adventurous studies of string sonorities and extended effects. While some listeners will be fully prepared for the dissonant counterpoint and rough textures of Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, Barber’s Adagio works well as a kind of palate cleanser, and provides an opportunity to rest and take stock before advancing to the more agitated String Quartet No. 2.
Ξ Even so, Ligeti’s string quartets have their share of searching, introspective expressions, rather in the vein of the quartets of Béla Bartók, so listeners don’t have far to jump to appreciate the choice of pieces. The Keller Quartet is certainly adept at playing both conventional, tonal music and more experimental, atonal music, and their performances are utterly convincing and beautiful. ECM’s exceptional reproduction contributes to the attractiveness of the package, so this CD is an appealing presentation of works that set each other off admirably.
Artist Biography by Stephen Eddins
Ξ Samuel Barber, one of the most prominent and popular American composers of the mid-20th century, wrote effectively in virtually every genre, including opera, ballet, vocal, choral, keyboard, chamber, and orchestral music. His music is notable for its warmly Romantic lyricism, memorable melodies, and essentially conservative harmonic style, all of which put him at odds with the prevailing modernist aesthetic of his time.
Ξ Barber was a member of the first class at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. In 1928, the 17-year-old Gian Carlo Menotti came to study at Curtis, and the two formed a personal and professional bond that would last most of Barber's life. Ξ As a student, Barber wrote several works that have entered the repertoire, including the song Dover Beach and Overture to the School for Scandal for orchestra. A fine singer and pianist, as well as composer, much of his work throughout his career featured the voice.
Ξ After his graduation from Curtis, Barber wrote a string quartet, the second movement of which became his most famous work, Adagio for Strings. Toscanini performed the Adagio with the NBC Symphony in 1938, and Barber's career was effectively launched. His 1939 Violin Concerto further established his international reputation. During the Second World War, Barber served in the Army Air Corps, where his duties included writing a symphony, his second. Works that followed over the next two decades include the Capricorn Concerto; a Cello Concerto; a Piano Sonata; Knoxville: Summer of 1915, an extended song for voice and orchestra with a text by James Agee; Hermit Songs, for voice and piano, using medieval texts; the chamber opera A Hand of Bridge; Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, taken from the ballet Cave of the Heart, written for Martha Graham; Summer Music, for wind quintet; the opera Vanessa; and a Piano Concerto. Some of the most prestigious musicians in the world performed his music and became champions of his work, including Leontyne Price, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Eleanor Steber, Martina Arroyo, Vladimir Horowitz, Arturo Toscanini, Eugene Ormandy, Bruno Walter, George Szell, and Serge Koussevitzky.
Ξ Barber received his first Pulitzer Prize for Vanessa, which had been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, had its premiere in 1958, and was hailed as the first great American "grand opera." His 1962 Piano Concerto won the composer his second Pulitzer Prize. The Metropolitan Opera commissioned Barber to write an opera to inaugurate its new opera house in Lincoln Center in 1966. Antony and Cleopatra, based on Shakespeare with a libretto by Franco Zeffirelli, proved to be a failure due at least as much to flaws in the production as to the music. Barber was so devastated by the intensity of the animosity toward his work that he never regained his confidence. He was temperamentally disposed to melancholy, which turned into clinical depression, and although he continued to compose sporadically, he produced few further works of substance.
Ξ In spite of the indifference or contempt of critics and the academic establishment, Barber's expressive and directly communicative music has never lacked support and devotion from concert audiences, and he remains one of the best-known and beloved American composers. His Adagio for Strings has achieved iconic status as a profound and universally understood expression of grief, and remains a testament to Barber's ability to write music of the highest artistic standards that can also touch the heart.
Ξ where is home
Ξ When Ligeti’s Second Quartet was receiving its early performances, forty years or so ago, to programme it with the Barber Adagio would have been unthinkable. Ligeti was new music; Barber, though he was actively composing, was not. What could a work that took Webern as starting point say to an adagio in B flat minor? The Ligeti quartet was surely everything the Barber movement was not: novel in its soundscape, restlessly exploratory, suspicious of former rhetoric, questing and questioning. It appeared to show the Barber, long established as a popular classic through the composer’s transcription for orchestral strings, as irrelevant to the progress of music, a mis-step from a year, 1936, that had also seen the composition of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Schoenberg’s Fourth Quartet and Varese’s Density 21.5 — or, to limit the field to compatriots and close contemporaries of Barber’s, works by John Cage and Elliott Carter. This was Ligeti’s continuing tradition; Barber’s was in the deep past. Ligeti was all about leaving what for Barber was solid home.
Ξ How times have changed.
Ξ How a recording can change them.
Ξ As presented here, Ligeti’s music and Barber’s no longer seem to come from separate, even antagonistic universes. This is partly because both belong to the world of performance, because both are being drawn out of their time haunts into the immediate present, the now of fingers and bows on strings, of resonating wood (whose character is heard with such warm clarity in the pizzicato middle movement of the Ligeti Second Quartet especially). Physically actualized in the recording, the music is also being all the time remade by performers searching for what a motif can convey, must convey, and finding an abundance of expressive contours in Ligeti’s quartets as much as in Barber’s. The gesture of lament, of course, is common to both, if differently articulated. But what startles in these performances is the urgency of that gesture, whether in Barber or in Ligeti, and the destabilized ground on which it takes place.
Ξ The Barber, needless to say, is a tonal composition, one whose means would have been fully understood half a century before the piece was written. By 1936, though, those means had lost their universality, and the Keller Quartett’s performance speaks of that loss. The almost non vibrato entry of the first violin removes any clothing of confidence: this is an instrument coming naked into the world, and showing, when increasing its vibration, only a flickering of insecurity. Its steps are tentative. They also lead nowhere, in a lodgeless world, ever returning and ever retracing. When the high point is reached, by all four instruments, it is the discovery of light but of a light that cannot be seen, because we are forced to tighten our eyes against it. And the final chord is more expiration than arrival, more exhaustion than homecoming.
Ξ Ligeti’s distrust or uncertainty, where homes are concerned, he revealed in his attitudes to his own early work, even as those attitudes changed. One relic of his Hungarian Bartókian ethnographical past was his string quartet Métamorphoses nocturnes (1953 — 54), which he took with him when he left Budapest toward the end of 1956, and which had a performance in Vienna a year and a half later. The work had been too challenging for presentation back home, but for Ligeti, who by the time of its premiere had worked on three electronic pieces in Cologne, it was not challenging enough. Though he implicitly legitimized it by calling his next quartet “No. 2”, he did not encourage further performances, and the quartet was not recorded until 1976. By then changes in his way of working — including, soon, a renewed enthusiasm for folk music — were beginning to make his Métamorphoses nocturnes less distant. What the Keller Quartett’s performance demonstrates is that this ‘prehistoric’ work (the composer’s own term) is already fully Ligetian in its busy polyphony, its abundance of new colours and its dissatisfaction with received information, even — or especially — the information it was so skilfully incorporating from Hungarian sources, rustic and learned.
Ξ That intensity of dissatisfaction, conjoined with great authority, is vitally communicated by this recording. Ligeti was ably proceeding from Bartók (whose Sixth Quartet, we should recall, was barely more than a decade old), and achieving a continuous concatenation of episodes — atmospheric, macabre, dancing, humorous — threaded through with references to a motif that magically first emerges, in the form G — A — G — A, as a variation on parallel chromatic scales. Other features include the progressive expansion and contraction of intervals to move from oscillations to more jagged contours and back again (in the Prestissimo towards the close), as well as the first signs of a concern with string harmonics. The Keller Quartett realize all these aspects of the music’s power and drive — and all its details, not least a wonderful pizzicato glissando — while suggesting, also, that for the composer they are not sufficient. What is home for this music, the home it at once establishes and undermines, is a place to leave. The last trailing statements of the main motif come from instruments that, after a tipsy farewell party, are already moving on.
Ξ Yet even the remarkable Second Quartet is not the destination, rather a waystage. Ligeti wrote it swiftly, between March and July 1968, at a time when, in parallel with the événements in Paris, what remained of the musical avantgarde’s solidarity, always more wishful than binding, was breaking down. So was its pursuit of innovation. On this point Ligeti has always been wary, as witness his playful introduction of quasi-human vocalizing into the supposedly pure electronic medium in the last of his 1957 — 58 essays, Artikulation, or the echoes of the late Romantic orchestra that had filtered into his Lontano the year before the quartet, or his choice of the quartet genre at all. More than his contemporaries who had been brought up in western Europe, he was aware that history cannot be forgotten. “The entire string quartet tradition from Beethoven to Webern is there somewhere in the quartet,” he was to say, “even sonata form, although only like an immured corpse.” That final word, though, is significant. No sooner does he mention the most central feature of the central tradition than he stops himself. Amnesia may be impossible, but there are parts of history that have died. The past is another country. We are no longer at home there.
Ξ Hence the need Ligeti felt to redefine the quartet, which he did by redefining its sound. In particular, harmonics are no longer exceptional; indeed, they are almost the rule, creating a music that glistens. The effort to produce those harmonics, at the level of intonational clarity the piece demands, explains the long gap before the first performance, which the LaSalle Quartet, then the leading exponents of the quartets of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, gave in Baden Baden on December 14, 1969. Almost half a century later, the work is as near as any quartet of its period to being part of the repertory, which means not only that its technical difficulties have been absorbed but also that it can profit from a performance that, as this one does, brings fresh and keenly expressive life to its sounds, with whistling harmonics of mystery, pain or hilarity and marvellous effects of bending intonation when one instrument slides past another.
Ξ Unlike its predecessor, the Second Quartet is in distinct movements — five of them, in homage to Bartók’s Fourth and Fifth Quartets, if with markings more reminiscent of Berg’s Lyric Suite (Allegro nervoso and Prestissimo sfrenato in the first movement). However, the principle of continuous variation is maintained.
Ξ “I wanted to realize one and the same concept in the five movements of the string quartet”, Ligeti recalled, and went on: “In the first movement the structure is largely broken up, as in the Requiem or in Aventures: one could almost describe it as an instrumental variant of these works. In the second movement everything is reduced to very slow motion … The third movement is a pizzicato piece … The net-formations, which were very soft until this point, now become hard and mechanical: the movement is like a machine that breaks down … The fourth movement is a very brutal movement … Everything that had happened before is now crammed together … And the fifth movement — in great contrast with the compressed fourth — spreads itself out just, just … like a cloud.”
Ξ The first movement is concerned very much with abrupt changes from slow to fast and back again, with vigorous gallops being suddenly braked into stillness, and then as suddenly set racing again. On the melodic level, these changes are equalled by transitions from highly angular motion to tremolando, developed from the First Quartet almost beyond recognition. The second movement introduces specified quarter-tones into the cluster image; the third is one of Ligeti’s misbehaving clocks, just as the finale is one of his coloured clouds. The work, which had become very physical and near in its fourth movement, withdraws again from us.
Ξ Ligeti himself again referred to his Requiem in connection with this last movement, comparing it with that earlier work’s Lacrimosa, but this is music also of teeming life. Precisely midway through the movement there arrives a moment of poignancy — extreme poignancy, Barberian, as it is in this most characterful recording — which Ligeti typically follows with a smokescreen in the form of a rushing quadruple helix, which typically comes adrift. The temptation to start over suggests itself, with reminiscences of the movement’s quivering start, but it is as useless to seek a new beginning as to bemoan our fate. Once again the music ends with a departure. — Paul Griffiths
ANDY GILL Friday 28 June 2013; Score: ****
Robert Moon; Score: *****
Michael Dervan; Score: ****
|Keller Quartett — Ligeti String Quartets / Barber Adagio (2013)|