Ligeti, N¿rgŒrd

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Ligeti,Nørgård
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: Christina Åstrand (violin); Danish National RSO/Thomas Dausgaard
The premiere of Ligeti’s Violin Concerto was given in 1993 by the violinist Saschko Gawriloff and the Ensemble InterContemporain under Pierre Boulez. That performance is still available on DG, and it’s a superb recording of this brilliant, nostalgically lyrical and rudely comic masterwork. The new recording on Chandos is not so starry, but it’s formidable competition. The Danish orchestra yields nothing to the mighty French ensemble in terms of precision and lightning flexibility, and Christina Åstrand is a superbly assured soloist. But the difference in tone of each performance becomes clear right at the outset. The Boulez recording is the more fastidiously beautiful, focusing the ear on the throaty rustle of Ligeti’s intricate orchestration, with its mysterious mistunings. The Danish performance is more extrovert, with the soloist and the exuberant swooping harmonics on violins well to the fore. The first approach might seem better for this famously ‘textural’ composer, but it underplays Ligeti’s penchant for sudden shocks and coups de théâtre, and the Danes seize on these with relish. Both approaches have their merits, but the sheer joie de vivre of the Danish version gets my vote. It’s coupled with Nørgård’s gently ruminative solo sonata The Secret Melody and with his recent Violin Concerto, Helle Nacht (Bright Night), which really does succeed in sounding radiant and dark at once. The latter-day Romanticism of the piece, with its rich orchestral haze and tremulous violin rhapsody, could hardly be more different from Ligeti’s bag of tricks, but the performers project it with equal conviction. Ivan Hewett