Kurtág: Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir

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COMPOSERS: Kurtag
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Kutág
WORKS: Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir: Four Capriccios; Four Songs to Poems by János Pilinszky; Grabstein für Stephan; Messages of the Late Miss R Troussova; …quasi una fantasia…; Doppelkonzert; Samuel Beckett: What is the Word; Songs of Despair and Sorrow; Four Poems by Anna Akhmatova; Colinda-Balada; Brefs Messages
PERFORMER: Natalia Zagorinskaya (soprano), Gerrie de Vries (mezzo-soprano), Yves Saelens (tenor), Harry van der Kamp (bass), Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Elliott Simpson (guitar), Tamara Stefanovich (piano), Csaba Király (pianino, spoken word); Asko|Schönberg; Netherlands Radio Choir/Reinbert de Leeuw
CATALOGUE NO: ECM 481 2883

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Many of the pieces included in this three-disc set are available in other versions, but this ECM project has a special feeling of authenticity about it. That’s partly because Reinbert de Leeuw has extensive experience conducting Kurtág’s music; but also because Kurtág himself was consulted in detail about these new performances as they were recorded, edited, and in some cases re-recorded as a result of his comments.

The interpretations are of a consistently elevated standard. Messages of the Late Miss R Troussova, a signature Kurtág score, sets a marker: soprano Natalia Zagorinskaya gives a riveting performance of this expressionist female Winterreise, harnessing Kurtág’s shriek-gesang just sufficiently to stop it tipping into caterwauling.

Mezzo-soprano Gerrie de Vries gives a similarly mesmerising account of Samuel Beckett: What is the Word, Kurtág’s fractured take on the Irish writer’s poem about the struggle to express human experience in language. The Netherlands Radio Choir, moaning, gurgling and hissing, provides arresting commentary, and Beckett would probably have appreciated the degree of humour and grotesquerie de Leeuw elicits from the music.

Of the works without voices …quasi una fantasia… is grippingly ethereal and eruptive, while the sepulchral recesses of Grabstein für Stephan are plumbed with powerful clarity by ECM’s engineering. Both pieces are authoritatively projected by Asko | Schönberg, the Amsterdam-based instrumental ensemble used for these recordings. Together with de Leeuw and his admirable singers, they create a formidable new set of reference points in the performance of György Kurtág’s music.

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Terry Blain