Quattro Mani at Weill and on CD

quattromaniresctructurescdcover

Quattro Mani

November 15, 2017

Weill Recital Hall

Works by Gosfield, Moravec, Machover, Lansky, and Ben-Amots

NEW YORK – Since 2013, pianists Susan Grace and Steven Beck have been performing together as the duo Quattro Mani. Their recent recital at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall presented several New York premieres, including pieces by Annie Gosfield, Paul Moravec, Tod Machover, and Paul Lansky. Gosfield’s mix of dissonance with rollicking rhythms was winning in “Refracted Rhythms and Telepathic Static.” Lansky’s three Color Codas – “In the Red,” Purple Passion,” and “Out of the Blue” – indeed embodied multihued harmonies and sparking ostinatos. Moravec writes in an elegant, idiomatic style for the piano. His Quattro Mani contains a substantial amount of memorable material — dare one hope it is a sketch for a double concerto? The evening culminated in a scintillating performance of John Adams’ Hallelujah Junction, which was both fiery and superbly coordinated.

Quattro Mani’s latest CD recording for Bridge Records, Re-Structures, is an engaging outing. The title work, also heard at Weill Hall, is by Machover. Scored for piano and electronics, it juxtaposes frenetic acoustic virtuosity with correspondingly penetrating digital commentary. Lansky’s Out of the Blue, one of the Color Codas also on the New York program, is an attractive post-minimal exploration of small cells of material that gradually expand into boisterous passages in octaves and quick scalar runs.

The multi-movement work Cembal d’Amore, Book Two by Poul Ruders changes up the duo’s instrumentation: Beck plays harpsichord while Grace remains at the piano. Its corruscating textures, varying duplications and canons in a sequence of movements based in part on Baroque dance suites, revels in chromaticism and wry wit in equal measure. Yet another shift in approach is found in Életút Lebenslauf by György Kurtág. Basset horns, played by Andy Stevens and Sergei Vassiliev, accompany the pianists playing instruments tuned in microtones. Mysterious timbres bump elbows with thornily dissonant angularity in a piquant, unforgettable piece.

The CD’s closer is a bit more straightforward, but no less captivating.  Tango for the Road by Ofer Ben-Amots is an eight-minute long exploration of traditional tango rhythms and gestures, with a few surprises and a left turn or two along the way. The piece gives Grace and Beck an ideal vehicle to showcase the supple phrasing and suavity they bring to bear whenever given a chance to swing.

Re-Structures is an adventurous exploration of many facets of 21st century piano music: highly recommended.

-Christian Carey

György Kurtág on ECM


György Kurtág

Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir

Asko | Schönberg and Netherlands Radio Choir; Reinbert de Leeuw, conductor

ECM Records 3xCD 2505-07

 

Composer György Kurtág was born in Transylvania, but his many years of association with the Budapest conservatory have identified him as one of the foremost composers of Hungary, heir to Ligeti’s mantle as forward thinker and brilliant creator. ECM has been the label most associated with his music. Their release last decade of his string works was revelatory and one could certainly heap plaudits on the label’s celebration of Kurtág’s eightieth birthday in 2006 with a recording of his brilliant Kafka Fragments.

 

To celebrate his ninetieth year, just a smidge late, ECM has released a 3 CD set of Kurtág’s Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir. Even before listening, it is something to behold. ECM rightly has a reputation for lovingly curating their releases, but a number of interviews and essays (including program notes by Paul Griffiths), inclusion of the complete texts in sympathetic translations (no matter how thorny the originals), and many samples of the composer’s handwritten scores and ink drawings make this release a feast for the eyes. As for the ears, it has a remarkable dynamic range, clearly rendering everything from the softest whispers to thunderous bass drum thwacks with a sense of energetic potency.

 

The variance of dynamics is just one part of the multi-layered structures found in this music. From fragments of instrumental sound and disordered declamation to walls of choral sound and altissimo register vocal climaxes, Kurtág’s work encompasses a wide range of expression. In terms of desire, grief, fear, exhaustion, resiliency, and pain, there seems to be not a shade of emotion missing: his music is a complete catalog of the modernist project. Conductor Reinbert de Leeuw elicits each of these emotions and musical demeanors in turn with the surest of hands, drawing consummately detailed performances from the assembled forces. If you make it your business to get one recording of music by Kurtág, this is it.