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Kurtag 80th Birthday Celebration

Keller Quartet, Hiromi Kikuchi, Gyorgy & Marta Kurtag Wigmore Hall October/November 2006


Keller Quartet Wigmore Hall 26 October 2006

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

From The Art of Fugue Contrapunctus I:Contrapunctus II; Contrapunctus III; Canon XV (Duo)

Gyorgy Kurtag (b. 1926) Twelve Microludes Op. 13 (1977-8)

Bach Contrapuncti IV, VI, IX


Kurtag Ligatura for violin, viola and cello (1989); Perpetuum mobile (Trios for violin, viola and cello) from Signs, Games and

Messages (1989-97

Bach Canon XIV

Kurtag  Aus der Feme III from Signs, Games and Messages (1986)

Bach   Canon XVII. Contrapunctus XI

Kurtag   Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervansky Op.28 (1988-9)

Bach: Contrapunctus XVIII

Kurtag Ligatura for two violins (19??)

György Kurtág - who we assembled to celebrate - was represented by thirty odd of his tiny pieces, which trump Webern at his most economical. Putting them in groups purports to construct larger works.

It all stemmed from a 'crisis' in his early thirties, assuaged by a psychologist who encouraged him to begin with "very small things - a few notes, a few instruments". He's never looked back.

On that basis he wrote his Op 1 string quartet (recorded several times) which we did not hear. The concert was given in churchy reverence, with applause forbidden until the end of each half, and no encore.

Kurtag's attainment of cult status has been enhanced by his rigorous coaching reputation, giving microscopic attention to every one of his few notes; tough for his students, but earning his interpreters' loyalty. These nicely scored little pieces, e.g. the Microludes which I have enjoyed as an item in mixed programmes, acted here more as welcome sorbets to refresh the palate between the main course, selections of Bach's demonstration of his advanced contrapuntal skills, played by string quartet.

The Art of Fugue items made for a pleasing sound which carried the audience along, but in the Wigmore Hall acoustic the two inner parts were often hard to hear properly, so Bach's advanced lessons in this didactic work were usually lost to us. The texture was dominated by the lead violin and cello, neither of them eschewing vibrato, though not using it to excess.

The most effective part of the whole programme for me was Kurtag's Aus der Ferne III nicely sandwiched between two two part canons; in those, one could hear clearly what was going on. The problem of the unfinished Contrapunctus XVIII was nicely solved by playing a tiny duet by Kurtag; he, apparently, did not know when he'd written it. The long adulatory essays by Paul Griffiths and Michael Quinnin in the (not cheap) glossy programme were short on specifics - 'metaphysical relationship - kindred spirituality' etc - generally unhelpful. The links between the two composers are often asserted but are not self evident. Cultissimmo?

Last week we had Galina Ustvolskaya (a composer I have taken very seriously) demolished in The Independent by Bayan Northcott (- - Were this by a contemporary composer, it might be slated for its aggressiveness and poverty of invention. Ah, but it is by the sainted Galina Ustvolskaya - - enduring her Three Compositions feels like undergoing a stiff penance - - ).

Next month Helmut Lachenmann is being promoted by London Sinfonietta as fun for small children - Lachenmann for beginners...

My rather jaundiced reception of this Kurtag celebration concert might however be related to horrendous journey problems both to and from Wigmore Hall?

Responses welcomed!

Hiromi Kikuchi violin; Gyorgy & Marta Kurtag pianino* Wigmore Hall 9 November 2006

Kurtag Hipartita for violin solo (UK premiere); From Jatekok (Games) and transcriptions for pianino con supersordino

* "A pianino is an unusual little instrument with a keyboard and hammer action like a piano, but with balanced glass rods in place of strings." (Dr Grant O'Brien, Edinburgh University)

I have to confess that we found ourselves equally out of sympathy at this event, which was supported in honour of Sir John Tusa and filled the Wigmore Hall with many notabilities in the music establishment.

The group of (separate) little violin pieces was premiered in UK by its dedicatee Hiromi Kikuch as a Partita (after Bach). She played from ten (or eleven) music stands strung across the front of the platform, which presaged great things; however, it did not become obvious why Ms Kikuch could not have turned her pages in the usual way...

For his well known Jatekok sequence of little pieces interposed with J S Bach (which we had enjoyed years back at an unpretentious Huddersfield Festival presentation in the Music Department's recital room) they made the extraordinary decision to import a pianino into Wigmore Hall, about which the lengthy programme note told us nothing to prepare us.

The elderly couple, attired informally as if they were playing at home for a few friends, sat at the pianino with their backs to the audience, so that we critics at the back of the hall could not see them "cross hands extravagantly and at times literally embrace each other" (Alan E Williams). Their ensemble was found wanting in synchrony and we had to strain our ears to catch the miniscule tinkling sounds made on this strange "upright piano with mute pedal".

One of my colleagues suggested that Wigmore Hall would have done better to hire my clavichord! The day was won, in Cageian style, by the ambient music of a mobile phone and sirens off stage, and an intrepid cougher who continued to distract us, sounding just as loud after she had retreated from the auditorium!

For this latest presentation from his father's slender oeuvre, György Jr, the Kurtags' electro-acoustic son, had devised "sonic artwork" which he operated for the performance. On the platform there were many microphones and three tall slender loudspeakers (I think). These concerts were recorded by BBC R3 for future broadcasting. Perhaps the intended result will become audible on the radio?

Peter Grahame Woolf

Read Jeff Brown in The Times "private musings, of baffling significance".

A report from Vienna in The New Yorker (Wien Modern at the Konzerthaus) suggests that the main problem at Wigmore Hall may have been with the dissemination into the hall of György Kurtag Jr's "sonic artwork"; c.p. last two paras of http://www.newyorker.com/critics/music/articles/061204crmu_music1