Search - Gyorgy Ligeti, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Rosemary Hardy :: György Ligeti Edition 4: Vocal Works (Madrigals, Mysteries, Aventures, Songs) - The King's Singers / Philharmonia Orchestra / Esa-Pekka Salonen

György Ligeti Edition 4: Vocal Works (Madrigals, Mysteries, Aventures, Songs) - The King's Singers / Philharmonia Orchestra / Esa-Pekka Salonen
Gyorgy Ligeti, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Rosemary Hardy
György Ligeti Edition 4: Vocal Works (Madrigals, Mysteries, Aventures, Songs) - The King's Singers / Philharmonia Orchestra / Esa-Pekka Salonen
Genres: Dance & Electronic, Folk, Pop, Classical
  •  Track Listings (23) - Disc #1

Rejoice! The world-premiere recordings of six Ligeti works are cause for celebration. Three of the pieces are recent (1988-93), and three were written during Ligeti's youth in Hungary. In the liner notes, Ligeti movingly d...  more »


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Rejoice! The world-premiere recordings of six Ligeti works are cause for celebration. Three of the pieces are recent (1988-93), and three were written during Ligeti's youth in Hungary. In the liner notes, Ligeti movingly describes the artistic climate under the Communist regime. One of the highlights, the third of six Nonsense Madrigals is a beautiful setting of the English alphabet. The other premieres are Mysteries of the Macabre sung by the brilliant Sibylle Ehlert, and a Hölderlin poem arranged for soprano and piano. The earlier premieres are settings of Hungarian poets, for one or three voices and piano. This is a stunning set, encompassing Ligeti's adventurous, polyphonic side and ample heartfelt poignance as well. --Robert Regile

CD Reviews

Innovative introspective imaganitive
Homiski | 08/24/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"All of the 'I' words you can think of. I do own the entire set, but this disc in particular in my favorite. Although the series gives you Ligeti as a whole, each disc focuses the listener on a particular genre and Ligeti's thinking in that particular decade. On this disc, more than any other in the series, I think you can hear a progression of his interest in writing for the voice. From the early Bartok-inspired folk pieces to the atmospheric and phonetic-only 'Adventures' and its followup companion, 'Nouvelles Adventures' one can hear a composer finding their own voice. This progression continues through to the 'Nonsense Madrigals' which is the pinnacle of Ligeti's compositional voice. In these pieces, one sees references to the past (via the use of madrigal form), but a distillation of his compositional style: non-tonal but using the total chromatic harmonically, and a dark sense of humor and wit. He's always looking ahead, but never loses sight of the past, much in the way Stravinsky was able to 'evolve' over his different compositional periods. The King Singers give an AMAZING performance of the Madrigals, really capturing the wit and dark humor, especially in the Lobster Quadrille and the Cuckoo in the Pear Tree!Ligeti is one of those composers who has the ability to balance the Dionysian with the Apollonian. It is 'thinky' music, but never forgets that music has the power to move (even if it is dark!)"
Where's the dead weight?
Lord Chimp | Monkey World | 12/08/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is an amazing disc, one of the best in Sony's monumental Ligeti Edition series.

On Sony's Ligeti Edition 4, the _Nonsense Madrigals_ were premiered. These six pieces for six voices, composed in the late-80s/early-90s, are some of the composer's finest offerings. Writes Ligeti, "They are virtuosic works in which I have tried to create a non-tonal but diatonic harmony as well as rhythmic labyrinths." The songs set different pieces of strange poetry against each other in tightly meshed counterpoint, with humorous melodic lines and overwhelming musical imagination. Ligeti also colors the arrangement with nonsense phonetic sounds.

_Mysteries of the Macabre_ takes the three arias of the Chief of the Secret Police from Ligeti's wonderful opera (_Le Grand Macabre_) and rearranges them. This has been called the most difficult music ever written from coloratura soprano, but you wouldn't know it listening to Sibylle Ehlert. Amazing!

Contrary to another reviewer, I think the harsher, earlier avant-garde vocal works (_Aventures_ and _Nouvelles Aventures_) have aged very well. They are comprised of meaningless vocal sounds with chamber orchestra accompaniment. Their pure chromaticism was something Ligeti would later abandon, but even with the prevailing seriousness of the Darmstadt school, these pieces are quite witty and amusing and consistent with Ligeti's goal of composing idiomatically for instruments (including voice), given that the music is pretty much atonal.

This disc also features pieces for one or three voices and piano from Ligeti's early Hungarian days. Because of stifling artistic conditions under Communist rule, the pieces are consonant and accessible.

I assure you that there is no other avant-garde vocal music like Ligeti's. Very highly recommended!
Picks up where Ligeti Edition 2 leaves off
Michael Schell | | 12/10/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Following onto LE2, which has most of the a cappella vocal music, this CD offers the Nonsense Madrigals, and several works for voice and accompaniment (ranging from piano up to chamber orchestra). To get the works for voice and full orchestra, such as the Requiem, you're directed to Teldec's Ligeti Project or the older recordings on Wergo or Deutsche Grammophon. Ligeti's only opera is on LE8. And that covers all the vocal music.

Despite the title, five of the Nonsense Madrigals are settings of "real" texts, mostly by Lewis Carroll. The work is for six unaccompanied voices from alto down to bass (no sopranos). Ligeti wasn't always at his best when setting concrete texts (i.e., something other than church Latin or nonsense syllables), but I think this piece succeeds better than most. It helps that he's working with someone of Carroll's caliber, but it also helps that he avoids many of the clichés and literalisms that creep into his other vernacular text settings. The rendition of Rands's Cuckoo in the Pear-Tree does employ onomatopoetic literalism (influenced by Jannequin's chansons I suppose), which makes me wonder if we'll consider it a cringer in 50 years. But the next Madrigal reverts to the cluster and density sound world of Lux Aeterna, albeit with the English alphabet as text. Is Ligeti poking fun at himself? The fifth and sixth Madrigals are on texts from Alice in Wonderland. No. 5 quotes God Save the Queen on the words "The farther off from England the nearer is to France" (and of course the Marseillaise comes in on "France"), the texture suddenly becoming homophonic at that point. Before that, different voices convey different lines of the text simultaneously. They do the same in the first Madrigal, which combines texts from Carroll and Rands.

I hear the start of the fourth Madrigal as a parody of Motown music. Listen to the beginning and tell me if you're reminded of the Temptations ("rain comes tumbling down" even). The balance of the Madrigal goes in a different direction though, so I wonder if this was a conscious allusion or if Ligeti just didn't get the pop music connotations in having a swinging, overwrought falsetto melody backed up by the other male voices in a bob-de-bob bass pattern. One of the Piano Etudes from Book 1 works with tertial harmony, and comes out sounding like something you'd hear in a cocktail lounge, which I'm sure Ligeti didn't intend. So I'm not sure if he was on the same page as someone like Salvatore Martirano, whose Ballad from 1966 pits a pop singer's diatonic crooning ("You are tooooo beautiful my dear....") against an atonal pointillist accompaniment typical of post-WW2 art music.

As if to make up for the lack of sopranos in the Nonsense Madrigals, the next track is Mysteries of the Macabre, an arrangement (not by Ligeti) of three coloratura arias from Le Grand Macabre. The music is wonderful, though Sibylle Ehlert's German diction is pretty tattered, understandably so given the vocal range she's directed to use and the fundamentally problematic question of vowel enunciation whenever a singing voice approaches the top of the treble clef staff. Unless you get the Wergo recording of the original version of the opera, this is the only CD currently available in North America that presents this music sung in German. There is also a version of Mysteries using a trumpet instead of a soprano (available on LP5), which adds a rather different slant to the operatic context.

Next up are the middle period masterpieces Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures. Don't underestimate them (like one reviewer here) just because they resemble lots of other atonal works for voice and mixed chamber ensemble written from the 1950s onward. As the decades pass, it becomes clearer that Ligeti had an edge over most of his contemporaries, just as Stravinsky did in his late serial works that were subsequently imitated by two generations of academic composers. What sets Ligeti's gems ahead of their brethren is their humor, their imaginative use of timbre, their impeccable timing, and the unusual conceit of building an expressive setting of nonsense syllables (as John Rockwell puts it, they "depict the intense if unspecified emotional states of a man and two women"). You almost need to see a staged or semi-staged performance to truly "get" these works. I recall a performance conducted by Rhonda Kess in New York in 1990 where the mezzo soprano was Marni Nixon (yes, THAT Marni Nixon, singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Deborah Kerr in The King and I), who in this production resembled a Kew Gardens Jew (despite the Irish maiden name). Next to her was a soprano wearing beauty cream and hair curlers (IIRC), and conveying the humiliation of being seen in public that way. The "ha" syllables from the baritone at the start of Nouvelles Aventures became his embarrassed reaction as a blackout abruptly "bumped" to a brightly lit stage, exposing him with his trousers pulled down.

If your only opportunity to experience Aventures/Nouvelles Aventures is on CD, then it might help to think of it as a chamber opera written in an imaginary language where you get to choose the meaning of the words. This is a good recording for that, and I slightly prefer it to the version on LP5. The singers emphasize the emotional connotations of their characters' utterances without hamming it up. And the ensemble balance (Esa-Pekka Salonen) and recorded sound (Marcus Herzog) are impeccable. The details just seem to come through a bit better than in the Teldec recording, and the background is very clean, crucial in a work with lots of silence and where the textures alternate between monophonic and polyphonic passages.

Most of the Ligeti Edition and Ligeti Project CDs include some works that really aren't vintage Ligeti. In this case, we get several art songs from the 1940s and early 1950s with Hungarian texts. The brief cycle Három Weöres-dal is actually rather interesting, exploring a more dissonant harmonic language, and probably worthy of a second tier modernist composer. Soprano Rosemary Hardy digs into the third song with a veritable scream on "rikáscol" ("in her heart giant birds are shrieking"). I must defer to others on her Hungarian diction. Crucially, these three songs were written during the brief years of Hungarian freedom between the end of WW2 and the imposition of the Soviet-backed dictatorship in 1948. Afterwards things go downhill with a lackluster cycle on Hungarian poems by János Arany (from 1952), then some forgettable Hungarian Folksong adaptations from 1950. If you want a very cost-effective introduction to essential Ligeti without the marginal compositions, you might consider the Deutsche Grammophon set. But I doubt you'll be disappointed by the performances on this CD of the works that matter: the Madrigals, Mysteries of the Macabre and Aventures/Nouvelles Aventures. They all sound very good here. As I write this in December 2009, these recordings are as definitive as you can find, and at eight bucks from Amazon, I'd consider this CD a bargain, even if you just rip the first ten tracks to your iPod then throw away the rest. Ergo, five stars.

As always, the CD booklet includes Ligeti's program notes, though these dwell more on the trauma of the 1940s and 1950s than on his career after emigrating. For example, there are several paragraphs on the early Hungarian works, but only a couple of sentences on the Nonsense Madrigals (strangely, the notes to LE7 say more about this work). Texts and translations are provided for everything but Mysteries of the Macabre, so I guess you'll need to get LE8 for the latter.

Note that as of March 2010 Sony has made the entire Ligeti Edition series available in an inexpensive nine-CD box set that includes this CD, so you should probably just buy that set instead of this single CD if you're interested in Ligeti's music."