Cello Concerto (1966) by György Ligeti

In the two-movement Cello Concerto (1966), Ligeti continued to develop his personal notion of musical gesture as an almost linguistic or semantic unit, which he had previously explored in the vocal/ensemble works Aventures (1962) and Nouvelles aventures (1962 – 65). The cello begins the work on a single pitch at a virutally inaudible pppppppp dynamic. From this focal point the first movement intensifies, expanding into dense, amorphous textures reminiscent of the glacially changing sonic clusters of works such as Atmosphères (1961). This process of growth continues throughout most of the movement, which ends with a high cello harmonic and a low bass note bounding a gulf of emptiness.
The expressively kinetic second movement begins with the presentation and apparent rejection of several ideas that ultimately return in new contexts. The solo cello remains at the fore, though the orchestra likewise teems with activity. Complex polyphony and mechanistic polyrhythms dominate the texture; the overall impression is one of limitless possibility, in which anything can happen, including musical events that have already taken place. The movement ends with frantic ponticello scraping that fades into the nothingness that began the concerto.
The fifteen-minute Cello Concerto was premiered in Berlin on April 19, 1967. The orchestra calls for flute, oboe, two clarinets, horn, trumpet, trombone, and a small string section.
– Robert Kirzinger

Paul Lewis plays Bach, Beethoven, Chopin & Weber (23rd May 2017)

Last night I saw the brilliant pianist Paul Lewis play some Bach, Beethoven, Chopin & Weber at St. Andrews Hall. It was his interpretation of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 4 that really had me by the throat. And the playful Allegro third movement was jaw-dropping – totally (as well as utterly) captivating. The Weber Piano Sonata no. 2 is not something I am familiar with but I enjoyed the stormy energy of the piece and the spectacle of a great musician in total control.


The Calidore Quartet @ The Playhouse 20th May 2017

On Saturday 20th May I went to a packed Playhouse to see the highly talented Calidore Quartet, from New York City. They began with Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 in F “The American”. Then a blistering version of String Quartet no. 1 “Métamorphoses Nocturnes” – by Ligeti. The set ended with Tchaikovsky’s first String Quartet and a Mendelssohn encore. The spiky Ligeti piece with its drunken waltz in the middle was the stand-out for me. (Unfortunately, I can’t find their Ligeti online so here’s a Mendelssohn clip instead).
“Although the String Quartet No. 1 is ostensibly a one-movement work lasting over 20 minutes, this single movement makes up many sections of disparate character. The piece opens with a stepwise melody (G-A-G sharp-A sharp) accompanied by chromatic scales. A second theme is angular, staccato, and aggressive. Closer attention to these two apparently disparate sections, however, reveals similarities in their melodic contours, which are based on the relatively simple chromaticism of the opening motif. New ideas and textures succeed one another throughout the piece, typically in fast-slow-fast alternation (another Bartók technique), but the melodic characteristics of each section may be traced to the piece’s opening. Variation of rhythm provides the piece with much of its sense of progression, with somewhat amorphous passages giving way to the quick irregular meters of a dance form; there are also other stylistic parodies of folk music. Use of biting dissonance (one of the reasons the composer’s more advanced work was not officially supported) occurs throughout; the second section features passages of parallel minor seconds. Ligeti’s ear for unusual timbral possibilities is already at work in this early piece. High harmonic glissandi near the end of the work may presage the distinctive sound of Apparitions and the later pieces for which Ligeti came to be known.” – Robert Kerzinger.


Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962) by Edward Albee [18th May 2017 performance live from Harold Pinter Theatre]

Last night my darling and I were at The Harold Pinter Theatre in London Village. Well, sort of. We were actually at Cinema City 112 miles away, drink in hand, watching the James Macdonald production of Edward Albee’s 3 hour violent, splenetic monument to hate and the destructive games people play. We admire the film version with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and couldn’t wait to see how Imelda Staunton interpreted venomous Martha. She does ok. Maybe she could improve the spit in George’s face: it was a bit girly. But for me Conleth Hill’s George was the more compelling character. Grab a ticket if you can.