The immediate attraction of this disc, released in 2008, was a major new orchestral work by Kurtag: "...Concertante..." (Op. 42) is a concerto for violin, viola and orchestra of over 22 minutes. Kurtag seldom writes for full orchestra, or at such length. He is renowned for his short pieces, often connected in cycles such as the "Kafka-Fragmente" for soprano and violin. But one 13-minute orchestral work from 1994, Stele, (this is a recording by Michael Gielen and the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg) is quite impressive, and I very much looked forward to hearing the award-winning "...Concertante...".
After repeated listening, I have to agree with the previous reviewer who laments the murk in the live concert recording. It is periodically fascinating, with a slow, mysterious introduction and a great angry orchestral outburst at one point completely atypical of the reserved Hungarian composer. Hiromi Kikuchi on violin and Ken Hakii on viola are splendid. But I'm not so sure about the Hungarian National Philharmonic, led by Zoltan Kocsis. There is quite a bit of annnoying crowd noise, and the orchestral music seems opaque; blurred; murky. I think this piece cries out for a new state-of-the-art studio recording -- how about an ECM disc with Kim Kashkashian, and the Kurtag "...Concertante..." paired with a new recording of Gubaidulina's 1996 "Concerto for Viola and Orchestra"?
The unexpected gem of this 2-disc live set, most of it recorded in Budapest in February 2006 at a special 80th birthday concert for Gyorgy Kurtag, is the violin partita "Hipartita" (Op. 43), dedicated to its performer, Hiromi Kikuchi. Over 28 minutes long, it is a more typical Kurtag piece that strings together eight relatively short solo pieces, each with a distinct voice. It is stunningly beautiful, and speaks directly and emotionally like the singers in Kurtag's vocal works. Kurtag has wryly described his music as doing "much with next to nothing," and once again he excels with a clear line dancing on the void. (Kikuchi was recently recorded in a live performance of "Hipartita" at the Milan Music Festival.)
The other works here are less noteworthy. "Zweigesprach" for string quartet and synthesizer is a collaboration among Kurtag, Gyorgy Kurtag Jr., and the Keller Quartet, led by long-time Kurtag collaborator Andras Keller. I am underwhelmed by the younger Kurtag's synthesizer additions to what might otherwise be an interesting new string quartet. It is structured in five movements, over about 19 minutes, but is only episodically interesting.
In addition to the three new compositions performed in Budapest, the disc includes 19 of Kurtag's short "Jatekok" (Games) for four-handed piano, performed by Gyorgy and Marta Kurtag in Vienna on November 17, 2006. They play a specially prepared, dampened, upright piano. These pieces are charming but light, and are not nearly as powerful as "Hipartita," which they follow on the Budapest Music Center disc.
The Kurtags have lived in France for many years now, and KURTAG 80 must have been a thrilling event, a return of the prodigal son.
(verified purchase from a large brick-and-mortar bookstore)