Kurtag

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Kurtag
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Messages of the Late Miss RV Troussova; …quasi una fantasia…; Scenes from a Novel
PERFORMER: Rosemary Hardy, Christine Whittlesey (soprano), Márta Fábián (cimbalom), Mathias Tacke (violin), Thomas Fichter (double bass), Hermann Kretzschmar (piano)Ensemble Modern/Peter Eötvös
CATALOGUE NO: SK 53290 DDD
‘That’s another Sunday over. That means the next will come.’ The latest offering from EJ Thribb, poet-in-residence at Private Eye? No, it’s one of the 40 or so tiny poems by Rimma Dalos which appear on this disc in settings by the contemporary Hungarian composer György Kurtág.

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Kurtág is clearly in the line of those composers such as Schubert and Schoenberg who can take bad poetry and turn it into pure gold. These settings are marvels of intense expression on a tiny scale – many of the songs are less than a minute long. But they’re not just a collection of Expressionist sighs and shrieks.

On a musical level they’re endlessly absorbing; some of them are like tiny, exquisitely worked mechanical toys. It’s an impression that’s encouraged by this disc, which has the effect of putting the music under a microscope. Every detail of texture is made to stand out in brilliant clarity.

To my mind this pursuit of clarity goes a bit too far; the textures are never allowed to blend, there’s no sense of a real acoustic space, and the ensemble is so closely miked that it can never achieve a real pianissimo – which is unfortunate, as that is Kurtág’s favourite dynamic.

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But this doesn’t seriously prejudice the performances, which are uniformly marvellous – in particular those of the soprano Rosemary Hardy, who achieves an amazing presence and variety on such tiny canvases. Ivan Hewett