Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Kurtag; Kodaly; Bartok; Ligeti; Lajtha; Jeney; Csapo
LABELS: Odradek
ALBUM TITLE: Splinters
WORKS: Works by Kurtag, Kodaly, Bartok, Ligeti, Lajtha, Jeney, Csapo
PERFORMER: Mariann Marczi (piano)

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This intriguing CD takes its name from the eponymous set of four strange, haunting piano pieces by György Kurtág. Tiny though they are, they reveal Mariann Marczi as a pianist of fine, sensitive touch. In the third piece Marczi has to place whispering rapid flurries in both hands over a gaunt melody – a very tricky manoeuvre which she carries off brilliantly.

This is the opening gambit in a cleverly programmed CD which offers a portrait in fragments (or splinters) of Hungarian piano music in the 20th century. The early pieces by Kodály, Bartók and László Lajtha are especially interesting, as they reveal just how torn Hungarian composers were in their cultural loyalties before the First World War. Kodály’s Seven Pieces have a gorgeous French harmonic opulence, though here and there a folk-like arabesque gives a hint of what was to come. Bartók’s Burlesques show a similar fusion, though Lajtha’s piece leans more towards German expressionism.

In this context, Kurtág’s gnomic epigrams and Ligeti’s capering piano etude ‘Fém’ (precise and delicate and soft-edged in this performance) seem like a continuation of the same cultural conversation. In the final two pieces, by Zoltán Jeney and Gyula Csapó, we have a new one, with American experimentalism. The results aren’t so rewarding musically, but no matter. Overall this is a wonderfully intelligent disc, beautifully played.

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Ivan Hewett