In Memoriam Haydée [DVD]

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COMPOSERS: Kurtág & JS Bach
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: In Memoriam Haydée
WORKS: Works by Kurtág & JS Bach
PERFORMER: Márta and György Kurtág (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ECM DVD: 076 2896; Blu-ray: 076 2897

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Here’s 80 minutes of the gentlest and most refined music-making imaginable. The performers are the composer György Kurtág and his wife Márta, who for decades have been playing four-handed piano music together. This concert, filmed at Paris’s Cité de la Musique in 2012, falls into the familiar pattern. We hear a sequence of Kurtág’s own tiny miniatures for solo piano, interspersed with his own arrangements of chorale preludes by JS Bach for four hands.

Kurtág plays his own pieces, joined by Márta for the occasional four-hand piece such as Beating – Quarrelling. Here the camera homes in on the four aged hands, locked in a quarrel fought out in obstreperous little phrases. Such is the humour which pops up unexpectedly in these miniatures, but the dominant tone is a spare, pitiless intensity. Many of the pieces are homages and memorials, and the sight of Kurtág hunched over the keyboard, carefully moulding these farewells, is as moving as the music itself.

When a Bach chorale prelude comes along it’s a moment to breathe and relax, and yet in their calm and gentle way these performances are no less intense. There’s no more moving experience in music than to hear the Sonatina from Bach’s Actus Tragicus played by these two, their grey heads inclined towards each other, their hands intertwined.

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Ivan Hewett