Ligeti’s Cello Concerto, Piano Concerto and Chamber Concerto for 13 Instruments

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WORKS: Cello Concerto; Chamber Concerto for 13 Instruments; Melodien for orchestra; Piano Concerto
PERFORMER: Christian Poltéra (cello), Joonas Ahonen (piano); BIT20 Ensemble/Baldur Brönnimann


Hard on the heels of the disc by Les Siècles (see March issue, p92), comes another fine all-Ligeti CD, again including the Chamber Concerto of 1969-70. The main focus here is on Ligeti’s activity as a concerto composer, and only Melodien – described by him as ‘iridescent and metallic music with celesta, glockenspiel and crotales colouring it as though with gold dust’ – falls outside this category. The Cello Concerto of 1966 is almost an anti-concerto, inasmuch as the soloist’s part is very discreet: the initial cello entry carries the surreal dynamic marking of pppppppp, and even the cadenza near the work’s close – splendidly handled by Christian Poltéra – is played in a whisper.

More upfront is the Piano Concerto, written some 20 years later. The foremost interpreter of this dazzling piece has been Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who has recorded it twice, but Joonas Ahonen is no less well on top of the staggeringly demanding piano part – much of it a sort of offshoot of Ligeti’s solo piano Etudes. This is predominantly fast and even jazzy music, though it includes a desolate slow movement featuring the haunting sounds of ocarina and swanee whistle.

Both the Chamber Concerto and the Piano Concerto contain a movement built on out-of-phase rapid repeated notes, like a mechanical instrument in the throes of a breakdown. But beyond this machine-like side of Ligeti’s persona, what comes across in all this music is his unerring ear for colour and harmony. The performances by Baldur Brönnimann and the Norwegian BIT20 Ensemble are brilliant throughout. An indispensable disc.

Misha Donat


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