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Ligeti: Etudes For Piano, Duets, Etc / Chung, Bax

Release Date: 02/24/2004 
Label:  Dynamic   Catalog #: 434   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  György Ligeti
Performer:  Lucille ChungAlessio Bax
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Ligeti Études have become a sort of test for ambitious and adventurous pianists, as it seems new recordings are coming out with ever-greater frequency. On first encounter, I tended to wonder why yet another recording of this repertoire; every work on this program is already available, in either the Sony (semi-)complete Ligeti edition, or on the recent Teldec release featuring Pierre-Laurent Aimard with the Aka Pygmies (which I reviewed in Fanfare 27-2). As it turns out, there are reasons to take Ms. Chung’s release very seriously.

First, this is in fact the second volume of a project that comprises the entire piano output of the composer, solo, four-hand, and piano duo. As such, when combined with its previous
Read more release (Dynamic 358), it presents a concise summary of Ligeti’s work in a single medium, which may be most useful for those specializing in keyboard literature (the aforementioned Ligeti edition does cover almost the same repertoire over two discs as well, but only includes the first of the etudes from Book 3, the remainder appearing in the Teldec release). So there is a certain comprehensiveness here that is satisfying.

But that would mean nothing if the playing didn’t pass the high hurdle of these extraordinarily difficult pieces. And Chung, at least in this disc, meets the standard in her recording of the first book of the Études. Her playing is dramatic, and her tempos propulsive. Perhaps most important, she is able to clarify contrapuntal textures with seeming ease. In a sense, I felt, listening to her, that I was hearing an approach to Ligeti analogous to Glenn Gould’s to Bach. (It is also nice to get the four current Études of the third book as an integral set, though I have to say musically they feel a little redundant to me in comparison to their predecessors.)

The four-hand piano works are diverse early pieces collected into a set ranging from wedding dances to a sonatina. The influence of Bartók is immediately evident, but a freshness still emerges, suggesting a strong musical personality which would later emerge in the mature, avant-garde Ligeti. These are superbly performed by Chung and Bax. My only disappointment is with the 1976 Three Pieces for Two Pianos. These works now appear as a sort of sketch for the Études (its second and third movements seem particularly related to the third and sixth of the first book of Études), though what the composer here accomplished with two keyboards seems compressed later into a single one with no loss of intensity or density. This performance seems a little too perfunctory for my taste. It’s quick, clean, and clear, but these pieces, especially the first, “Monument” need more interpretive edge to succeed. In this same issue, I review another performance by Italian duo pianists Paola Biondi and Debora Brunialti—ironically also on Dynamic—which is much more satisfying.

But this is my only reservation. The recorded sound is clear and immediate. As observed earlier, as a set with its earlier volume, this could make for a great, compact offering of Ligeti’s keyboard music. In the end, it turns on whether Chung’s performance of Book II and the Musica ricercarta are at the same level as these interpretations (I am not able at this time to review that disc, due to deadlines, but I hope to hear it and leave a note concerning it in an upcoming Critic’s Corner). If she masters the fiendish demands of the last two etudes in that set, the “Devil’s Staircase” and “Infinite Column,” then this is a find indeed. At the same time, if the reader already has been collecting Ligeti’s works through the ongoing Sony/Teldec series, I don’t see a compelling reason for duplication.

Robert Carl, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Pieces (3) for 2 Pianos by György Ligeti
Performer:  Lucille Chung (Piano), Alessio Bax (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1976; Berlin, Germany 
Etudes (6) for Piano, Book 1 by György Ligeti
Performer:  Lucille Chung (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; Berlin, Germany 
Etudes (4) for Piano, Book 3: no 15, White on white by György Ligeti
Performer:  Lucille Chung (Piano)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1995 
Etudes (4) for Piano, Book 3: no 16, Pour Irina by György Ligeti
Performer:  Lucille Chung (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997 
Etudes (4) for Piano, Book 3: no 17, A bout de souffle by György Ligeti
Performer:  Lucille Chung (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997 
Etudes (4) for Piano, Book 3: no 18, Canon by György Ligeti
Performer:  Lucille Chung (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997 

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