Ligeti: Clear or Cloudy: Complete Recordings

LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
WORKS: Clear or Cloudy: Complete Recordings
PERFORMER: Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Douglas Boyd, Gianluca Cascioli, Saschko Gawriloff, Matt Haimovitz, Håkan Hardenberger, Hagen Quartet, LaSalle Quartet, Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez
By the general public, Ligeti is remembered for his three works used in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Though he was not in favour of the way the film used modified extracts from his orchestral Atmospheres, the choral Lux Aeterna and Requiem, it was actually thanks to Kubrick’s masterpiece that many of us discovered Ligeti’s music. On this tribute, marking the composer’s death last June, Atmospheres and Lux Aeterna are heard as intended, although sadly there was no room here for the Requiem.


Ligeti completists should have Sony’s Ligeti Edition and Teldec’s Ligeti Project. For listeners wanting merely a representative overview, however, this set is extremely useful, although to get a fully-balanced picture you’d need, arguably, to supplement it with one of the early electronic works (the lessons of which are also reflected in the organ, orchestral and choral works of the 60s) together with the Requiem, the Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes, and the opera,La grande macabre.

Two whinges: I have to confess that I have always found Aventures and Nouvelles aventures tedious. The performances here are nothing short of brilliant, but so much talent (including Ligeti’s) applied to such nonsense remains rather depressing. Second, I think I prefer the earlier DG recordings, used for 2001, of Atmospheres (by the Südwestfunk Orchestra under the baton of Ernest Bour) and Lux aeterna (Stuttgart Schola Cantorum) to the later interpretations included here.


These cavils scarcely detract from the overall quality of this release, which amply demonstrates the vivid, adventurous and puckishly individual contribution that Ligeti made to late- 20th-century music. Alongside the better-known ‘clouds’,those great, luminous, drifting fogbanks of colour and harmony shot through with solar flares of extreme timbres and registers, the clarity and precision of the early chamber music provide intriguing clues to his later development, whilst the most recent work included (the violin concerto completed in 1993) offers us clear proof that he never stopped creating unexpected and fascinating sounds and gestures. Barry Witherden