Ligeti: Études

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

WORKS: Études
PERFORMER: Idil Biret (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555777
In a note in the CD booklet, Idil Biret explains that her tempi for these fascinating and hair-raisingly difficult pieces aren’t governed by the timings in the score, which she finds too fast to allow all the nuances to be brought out, and that instead she follows her musical instincts. I have every sympathy with that, and it’s true in any case that some of the durations in the facsimile edition of Book 1 are noticeably shorter than on the recording by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, which Ligeti supervised. (The timings in the printed score of Book 2 were copied over from Aimard’s recording.) Many of these pieces, however, are designed to sound dizzyingly fast; and while you can hear all the notes in Idil Biret’s performance of the study called ‘Vertige’, the effect suggested by its title is entirely lacking. Much the same applies to ‘L’escalier du diable’, with its perpetually ascending patterns rather like those ‘impossible’ Escher staircases. Here, Biret comes in at 6:45 minutes, as opposed to the 5:16 of Aimard’s recording.


Considerably more successful are the ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, with its brilliant mechanical-piano imitation, and the calm ‘En suspense’. But Biret’s spasmodic rubato undermines the hauntingly beautiful ‘Open strings’, and she plays the left-hand part in the last half-dozen bars an octave too high. Aimard’s recording is clearly the one to go for, and it has the added advantage of throwing in the first study of the still evolving Book 3 (Ligeti has since completed three more pieces), as well as the early Musica ricercata. Misha Donat