ALBUM TITLE: Kurtág
WORKS: Omaggio a Luigi Nono, Op. 16; Eight Choruses to Poems by Dezsö Tandori, Op. 23; Songs of Despair and Sorrow, Op. 18
PERFORMER: SWR Vocal Ensemble, Stuttgart; Ensemble Modern/Marcus Creed
CATALOGUE NO: CD 93.174
As with his music in other genres, Kurtág’s choral music tends to collections of aphorisms and intense moments of feeling, but his immaculate spacing of voices and wide range of vocal techniques give these works a vividness, an urgent sense of communication not always present in his instrumental pieces.
Two of the three cycles here are in Russian (Kurtág has said that Russian is for him a ‘sacred’ language; he learned it in order to read Dostoevsky and it has deeply affected him since). Akhmatova and Rimma Dalos are the principal authors in the lapidary cycle of vocal miniatures in homage to Luigi Nono. The eight Tandori Choruses are more elusive and sometimes playful. If there’s a ‘big’ work here it’s Songs of Despair and Sorrow, plangently and lyrically monumental. Setting poems by Lermontov, Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Tsvetayeva and others for chorus and an ensemble of harmoniums, brass quintet, string sextet, harps, accordions and percussion, this is a refined masterpiece of lamentation.
The Stuttgart Vokalensemble’s performances are extremely accurate, devotedly and warmly sung, in demonstration-class sound, and the instrumental balance in Songs of Despair seems ideally achieved. This is a marvellous disc: at only 41 minutes’ duration it’s very short measure, but at least every minute is packed with maximum expressive significance. Calum MacDonald