WORKS: Musica ricercata; Three Pieces; Sonatina; Etude No. 15; Etude No. 16; Three Wedding Dances; Trends indulo
PERFORMER: Fredrik Ullen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-983
In the first volume of his survey of Ligeti’s piano music, Ullen included the first two books of the continuing series of Etudes, which are arguably the most important contribution to the piano literature in the last quarter-century. In the latest instalment he brings that sequence almost up to date with No. 15, ‘White on White’, which uses only the white notes on the keyboard, chordally at first but gradually picking out shards of melody, and No. 16, ‘Pour Irina’, in which a slow sequence of delicately tinted chords fans out from the high treble until it explodes into one of Ligeti’s manic clockwork toccatas. Only the most recent, No. 17, ‘A bout de souffle’, which Pierre-Laurent Aimard premiered last autumn, is not included.
If Ullen’s playing lacks the sheer devilry and panache of Aimard, who has also recorded the Etudes (for Sony’s Complete Ligeti Edition), it is still utterly secure. The rest of his disc includes the most substantial of the early piano works, the multi-movement Musica ricercata, which shows the young composer chafing against the restraints of Bartokian neoclassicism, a group of short pieces from the same period for two pianos, and the much more substantial Three Pieces, Monument-Selbstportrait-Bewegung, one of Ligeti’s most protean works of the Seventies. Here Ulle’n duets with a recorded image of himself perfectly effectively, but without quite the flexibility that this quick-witted music ideally needs. Andrew Clements