on 22 December 2006
I bought this album expecting something rather whimsical, for curiosity value as much as anything else. I was rewarded with a rare gem: it has since carved out its own niche in both my music collection and my mind. The barrel-organ sound suits Ligeti's bizarre yet beautiful arrangements so well, its mellow tones making even the more dissonant moments (of which there are few) easy on the ear, and the sheer precision of the instrument makes the convolutions and intricacies of the arrangements wonderfully clear. "Poeme Symphonique pour 100 Metronomes" is pure experiential music, but the continually shifting shapes that move through the noise are still evocative of heavy windblown rainfall, perhaps: closer to listening to the sounds of some natural process than a piece of music.
The etudes arranged for player piano are also fantastic; "l'escalier du diable" in particular I find dizzying in its continual shifting of contexts. I know nothing about music theoretically or technically, but I really think this recording is rather special. Go on, try it; you won't be disappointed!
on 15 June 2009
To those new to this collection it represents a sometimes bizarre but always intriguing collection. Many of the pieces were transcribed from original works for human hand. The microtonal an dshifting "cloud" harmonies of his middle years are nowhere to be seen here as the works are msotly concentrated in his Hungarian periods and later years. So the early pieces often have folk inflections whilst trying to burst out from Communist strictures whilst the later works sometimes hark back to these but have the bonus of a lifetime's musical searching; rhythms added to by familiarity with African polyrhythms, surreal and dadaist humour (often taken as a veiled form of protest), and the mechanistic virtuosity of course. An example is the dazzling late Etudes for Piano transcribed for two player pianos. Stylistically the works range from early folk inspired material to his most modernistic and conceptual works. This is one of the main attractions apart from the extreme virtuoso nature of the music.
Poeme Symphonique for 100 metronomes is perhaps the most eccentric and dadaist work and is an intriguing exercise rather than music that you'd want to regularly hear again. Havcing said that, I find it perculiarly hypnotic. All the other works for player piano or barrel organ are coherent and attractive exercises enhanced by the demonic demands of speed and precision. At best these are deliriously exciting works.
Ligeti, particularly in the player piano works offers a conscious tribute to the work of Conlon Nancarrow. So don't try to play these at home; sit back and let the massive waves of sound wash over you. The use of a barrel organ works well not just because it adds a richness over the mechanistic and often brutally fast playing; it adds depth too to the bass notes. Certainly none of the original keyboards works are cheapened by its use.
The recording is first class; it's a shame I can't praise individual performers because there aren't any. Don't be put of by this, the music is often passionate and very human. It's a worthy addition to the Sony Ligeti series. Teldec took up the completion of the series that Sony began and, whilst I can recommend this particular recording very highly, it is fair to say that the rest of the series is spectacular too and worth the investment. One review I read said that, thanks to this project, Ligeti was the only composer, since Stravinsky, to have all his works recorded during his lifetime. I don't know how true that is but it reflects the importance and attraction of his always thoroughly engaging music. Taken as a whole then this series is a must for anyone interested in contemporary or modern classical music and a fitting tribute to Ligeti's genius.