On Soli, Tamsin Waley-Cohen's 2015 release on Signum Classics, the violinist explores modernist repertoire composed between 1944 and 2005. Because these solo violin pieces by Béla Bartók, George Benjamin, Krzysztof Penderecki, Elliott Carter, and György Kurtág are challenging for both the player and the listener, one should approach this CD with some awareness that they reflect different phases of the avant-garde movement that dominated music in the last half of the 20th century. In quieter selections where the moods are primarily brooding or lyrical, Waley-Cohen produces a vibrant tone and smooth phrasing that make her playing easy to appreciate, even when the music isn't recognizably tonal. However, in louder, dissonant passages, notably in sections of the Bartók Sonata, Benjamin's Canon for Sally, Carter's Remembering Aaron, and Kurtág's Anziksz Kellerannanak, the close microphone placement makes her bowing sound overly resinous and scratchy, which can be hard to enjoy. Even so, few violinists dare approach this bracing material, and Waley-Cohen is to be commended for devoting a whole album to such cutting-edge pieces solely on her terms, without making compromises.
The two films on this DVD combine some of the most demanding chamber works ever written. Recorded at the atmospheric Academy of Sciences in Budapest, the Keller Quartet plays a version of Bach’s unfinished masterpiece The Art of the Fugue for string quartet intertwined with works by renowned contemporary composer György Kurtág – a programme that the four Hungarians developed and have successfully performed on international stages. Anner Bylsma, Dutch master cellist and world-renowned as a distinguished interpreter of Bach’s cello music, plays the solo suites. The suites, on which he has also published an authoritative book, count among the most popular baroque chamber works. Anner Bylsma plays the famous Stradivarius “Servais” and the disc was recorded in the beautiful village church St Bartholomew of Dornheim in Thuringia.
In literary criticism, we throw around our fair share of arbitrary terms. Yet one I stand by, and of which I am especially fond, is “intertextuality,” which refers to the borrowing, shaping, and influence of texts on other texts. Similarly, one can say many things about Hungarian composer György Kurtág. He is a “master of the miniature,” a microscopic craftsman. His language implodes with a hermetic (im)precision. His wit is boundless, unassuming, and unabashedly lyrical. And so forth. But in the end, his sound-world is nothing if not intertextual.
The six Bagatelles were originally part of a collection of 12 bagatelles composed for piano between 1951 and 1953. In 1953, Ligeti transcribed six of the bagatelles for a wind quintet made up of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon. With the exception of the second and fifth bagatelles, these are quick, spirited little pieces. They reflect Ligeti's economical approach to composition, as a minimum number of notes are used to maximum effect……
The great viola player Kim Kashkashian has long been one of the most outstanding protagonists of modern composition and this bold and subtle account of solo music by the great Hungarian composers György Kurtág and György Ligeti is a landmark recording. Kurtág’s Signs, Games and Messages (1989- in progress) in its 19 aphoristic sections is as demanding as Ligeti’s Sonata for viola (1991-94), but Kashkashian surmounts the very different challenges of the works, and points towards the qualities that unite these composers. As ever, she gets to the heart of the music, and unravels its secrets.