Ligeti: Lontano; Atmosphères; Apparitions; San Francisco Polyphony; Romanian Concerto

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Lontano; Atmosphères; Apparitions; San Francisco Polyphony; Romanian Concerto
PERFORMER: Berlin PO/Jonathan Nott
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-88261-2
Forty years ago, the Hungarian György Ligeti made a great discovery. He realised that qualities of music which we’d always thought of as secondary – colour, mass, dynamic envelope, texture – could actually be primary. Instead of melodies and harmonies, music could be made from the play of mass against point, rough against smooth, rapid murmuring against glacial stillness. The joyous first fruits of that discovery were Apparitions and Atmosphères, and how fresh, witty and lustrous they still sound. The wit tends towards the savage or the nightmarish at times, though you wouldn’t guess it from these performances, which tend to underplay the rough moments. Where this recording excels is in capturing the incredible fine gradations of timbre Ligeti achieves with orchestral means – on that level it’s unbeatable. So imperceptible are the entries and exits of the instruments, so uncannily strange the combinations of tone colour, that much of the time it sounds like electronic music (which was indeed the inspiration for Ligeti’s orchestral style). It’s fascinating to hear, after these explorations of strange new worlds, an example of Ligeti’s early folk-influenced style. The Romanian Concerto sounds like Bartók on the surface, but is full of portents of the later Ligeti. Ivan Hewett