György Kurtág: Musik für Streichinstrumente (ECM New Series 1598)


György Kurtág
Musik für Streichinstrumente

Keller Quartett
András Keller violin
János Pilz violin
Zoltán Gál viola
Ottó Kertész cello
György Kurtág celesta
Miklós Perényi cello
Recorded November 1995, Casino Zögetnitz, Vienna
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“To work with him is, simultaneously, very beautiful and very hard. Because he is always moving, because there is no wrong and right. He demands that one lives in the music, from moment to moment. And that’s what we’ve learned from him: whatever we play, to live in that music.”
–András Keller on György Kurtág

With all the rhetoric these days about “macro” effects—be they economic, intellectual, or social—the music of György Kurtág remains a treasure trove of microcosmic delights. Packed with allusions and personal musings galore, Musik für Streichinstrumente gives us a stack of intimate letters through which to pore and discover new sentiments every time. From the whispered beginnings of Aus der Ferne III (1991) for string quartet, we find ourselves in the shadow of something even more ephemeral than the shadow. So, too, in the highly concentrated Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánsky (1988/89). Kurtág’s block structure allows us to concentrate on each element on its own terms, as in Ligatura – Message to Frances-Marie (The Answered Unanswered Question). The Frances-Marie in question is Uitti, whose innovation and mastery of extended techniques allowed her, with the use of two bows, to enact what two cellists share here. It is a downright cosmic swelling, inhabited by the ghost of a distant star whose death reaches us light-years after the fact. It is not the prototype but the topotype, and cuts a fine cross-section of its own pathos. In its reprised form at the album’s conclusion, we get the mysterious appearance of a celesta (played here by Kurtág himself) in the final two measures.

Quartetto per archi (1959) is Kurtág’s Opus 1. It begins in fragments of awareness and structure, and bleeds through stages of insistence, call and response, and other delectable sporadica. As an organism, it is bound to the details of its own outcome as they are mapped out along the score and fleshed through practiced performance. Yet even in the latter, there is a sense of collapsed time in which the fleeting gesture becomes the primary mode of expression.

The twelve “microludes” for string quartet under the dedication Hommage à András Mihály (1977/78) attend to this process of collapse most attentively among the selections gathered for this program. Mihály was one of Kurtág’s earliest proponents, and Kurtág expands upon a motivic string from his cello concerto. These pseudo-variations span the gamut of the quotidian and the terse, the intertextual and the improvised, the urgent and the indifferent, so that by the end they cohere into a more lucid realization. The illusion of permanence is articulated through every bowing of a resonant string, which by nature must be finite in order for it to have begun.

The members of the Keller Quartett all studied with Kurtág at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, during which time they formed as a group and turned not a few heads with back-to-back wins at Europe’s most prestigious string quartet competitions. Their commitment to the moment results in a ponderous, nuanced performance.

Kurtág cannot be said to be accessing a continual ethereal voice from which he literally or figuratively plucks a few choice utterances. In describing the effect rather than creation of those utterances, he acknowledges both the light and that which is cast through its blockage. In every moment there is a galaxy, and in every galaxy a pocket of space in which this music continues to reverberate.

<< Maneri/Morris/Maneri: Three Men Walking (ECM 1597)
>> Eduard Brunner: Dal niente (ECM 1599 NS)

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