Collection: African Rhythms

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Ligeti,Reich,Traditional
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Étude No. 4; Étude No. 8; Étude No.12; Étude No.16; Étude No. 17; Étude No. 18; Clapping Music; Music for Pieces of Wood
PERFORMER: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano, clapping); Aka Pygmies
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-86584-2

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György Ligeti, Steve Reich, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the Aka Pygmies of the Central African Republic: it might sound like a musical version of odd-man-out, but in fact there are fascinating interconnections. Ligeti had long been an admirer of the dense, polyphonic, polyrhythmic choral music of the Aka Pygmies when he introduced it to Aimard. Reich, meanwhile, studied in Ghana and is an acknowledged influence on Ligeti.

This disc combines all four elements: two works by Reich bookend a sequence of Ligeti Études alternating with Pygmy songs. Yes, it’s a strange combination, and yes, it takes the ear a while to adjust to the juxtaposition of such radically different music, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Aimard’s interpretation of the Ligeti needs no recommendation: he is the authoritative performer of these works, clear, fleet, and bringing out all the rhythmic complexity and wit (his recording of the complete cycle is also available on Sony).

His take on the two Reich works is less convincing: in Clapping Music (Aimard overdubbed with himself), he chooses a woolly, dull clap which only serves to emphasise his slightly sluggish rhythms, while hearing Music for Pieces of Wood performed on a piano (again overdubbed) rather than woodblocks is just plain strange. The Pygmy songs at times sound like a gruff version of Pérotin: a dense web of polyrhythmic lines weaving in and out of each other, sometimes accompanied by percussion or whistles.

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The real concern of this disc, though, is what revelations these musics bring about each other. Rhythm is clearly the connecting thread in general terms, but there are specific cross-references, too: sometimes one can even hear individual rhythms carried from a Pygmy song to the following Ligeti Étude. The constituent elements, successful on their own terms, also add up to a very enjoyable, and enlightening, celebration of rhythm and pulse. A noble project. David Kettle