Ferenc Snétberger guitar
András Keller, Zsófia Környei violin
Gábor Homoki viola
László Fenyő violoncello
Gyula Lázár double bass
Concert recording, December 2018
Liszt Academy, Grand Hall, Budapest
Engineers: Stefano Amerio and Gergely Lakatos
Cover photo: Atilla Kleb
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: February 12, 2021
After making his ECM debut with the live recording In Concert and the jazzier follow-up Titok, guitarist Ferenc Snétberger returns to the label with Hallgató. Recorded live in December of 2018, it positions his strings amid those of the Keller Quartett and Gyula Lázár on double bass. The focus this time is on Snétberger as a composer, with three of his works standing as pillars of the program. His Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra (1994/95; arr. 2008) spans three substantial movements. Subtitled “In Memory of My People” and written for the 50th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, it balances precise notation with liberating cadenzas. “Hallgató” (a somewhat ambiguous word meaning “listener”) sets the scene with guitar alone before the quintet’s entrance, feeling out the landscape upon which we are about to walk with these fine musicians as our guides. “Emlékek” (memories) is our first waystation. Romantic yet devoid of excess, its nourishment fortifies us for the fancier footwork of “Tánc” (dance), in which the catharsis we have been seeking is realized, reminding us of what vibrancy feels like. Snétberger’s Rhapsody No. 1 for Guitar and Orchestra (2005; arr. 2008) is equally dynamic, if less angular. Like a figure sashaying between historical buildings, it navigates city streets with the nostalgia of experience on its shoulders. In the journey between them, we come across Your Smile for solo guitar, a timely song without words.
Works from other composers fill in the gaps with vital organs. Two songs from John Dowland (1563-1626) are the subject of astonishing arrangements by David Warin Solomons. “I saw my lady weep” and “Flow, my tears,” both from 1600, show the undying spirit of this music, the guitar adding a lute-like touch to the backdrop while strings weave their tapestry in its light. The latter tune, a duet for guitar and cello, speaks in an unmistakable nocturnal tongue. The program takes its deepest breaths in the String Quartet No. 8 in C minor of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). Written in 1960 for victims of fascism and war, its opening and closing Largos are played crosswise, lending a graceful urgency to their differences. The second movement, by contrast, is delicate without pulling the punches of its traumatic reveals, while the Allegretto dazzles with its rougher qualities. The Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber (1910-1981), taken from the String Quartet, op. 11, of 1936, is also included, rendered with a vocal quality I’ve rarely heard.
All told, this is a superb program from world-class artists. More than the performances, however, Snétberger’s writing scintillates. Such cinema requires no camera and only the heart as a projection screen. What begins with a yearning for peace opens into dance-like wonder, but only briefly before lowering the head in slumber to chase resolutions behind closed eyes. Because, in the end, memories may be nothing more than dreams we haven’t yet forgotten.