ALBUM REVIEW Gyorgy Ligeti: The 18 Studies
COMPOSED between 1985 and 2001, the 18 Etudes for Solo Piano by Hungarian-Transylvanian composer Gyorgy Ligeti require quick fingers and tremendous brain power. It is the music that tests both the player and the instrument to the limit.
The work consists of 18 pieces arranged in three books, the last incomplete. Influences range from Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff and modern jazz to African and Cuban music.
With their uplifting brilliance and, at times, mesmerizing beauty, the studies capture the imagination intellectually and spiritually and are well served by Danny Driver, one of this country’s foremost contemporary pianists, who demonstrates unwavering determination. .
The album opens with the frantic pace of Desordre, an intense investigation into mathematical chaos, in which visual aspects are as important as composition – the right hand plays only white keys, the left hand only black notes. .
Tempo and mood change dramatically for the next passage, Cordes a vide, with a thoughtful, slower impressionist mood inspired by Debussy. Driver delivers with a delicate and tender touch, with colors and harmonies showing a dazzling beauty and bewitching optimistic.
The pace picks up again for Blocked Keys, with keys “stuck” to create a stuttering effect, while the passage in which the octaves go horribly wrong is described by Ligeti as being like clowns in a circus who are constantly screwing up stuff that they can actually do brilliantly.
Autumn in Warsaw, referencing a Romanian funeral lament, concludes the first book and captures a wide emotional dynamic range, including a sense of upbeat nostalgia.
The hypnotic Galamb Borong opens the second book and Driver paces The Devil’s Staircase, the longest of these brief pieces, with incredible dexterity, while book three ends with Canon, a slow and winding impressionistic work of calm and order, bringing with him a questioning voice.
If bad health had not intervened, Ligeti would surely have written an even more ambitious work but the 18 Etudes are indeed the peak of the composer, enhanced on this recording by a warm, detailed sound and with a full and rich bass sound. Recommended.
Released on Hyperion.