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Kurtág: Intégrale des quatuors à cordes

12 janvier 2017

L'album Kurtág du Quatuor Molinari a été couronné d'un Diapason d'or en novembre 2016. Si vous voulez savoir comment a été conçu ce joyau, lisez cet article de la revue Diapason paru récemment. Pour lire l'article cliquez ICI

Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music
6 janvier 2017

When it’s a matter of deserving living high modernist composers, Gyorgy Kurtag (b. 1926) belongs up there though he does not always get his due. Enough of his music, happily, has seen the light of day in the recorded medium that we can gauge his merits regardless.

Today’s selection is a good example. His Complete String Quartets (ATMA Classique ACD2 2705) comes to us in a major new recording by Quatuor Molinari. His quartet work is sufficiently terse and concentrated that the entire output fits on a single disk, covering the period from 1959 through 2009. Like Webern, Kurtag does not provide a single superfluous note. His complex and highly colored string language is as dense and purposeful as it is memorable and alive.

Quatuor Molinari presents the works in chronological order and puts in all the precision and expressivity the works demand. You can hear a progressive movement beyond serialism to something more intensely personal. The “Quartet No. 1, Op. 1” (1959) was a breakthrough from a frustrating period of blockage. He transcended it by working with only two or three notes at a time. There results a music of great intensity. The “Hommage a Andreas Milhaly, Twelve Microludes, Op. 13” (1977–78), uses quotations and an even more terse approach to create the twelve miniatures. “Officium breve in memorium Andreae Szervansky, op. 28” gives us a radical brevity of 15 movements in three minutes.

The “Aus der Ferne III” (1991) and V (1999) are from a series of tributes to the music publisher Alfred Schlee, who among other things heroically kept numerous modern music scores out of the hands of the Nazis (and sure destruction) in WWII. They show an increasing freedom of language, notably cello pedal tones and “literal” depictive expressions.

“Hommage a Jacob Obrecht” (2004–05) pays tribute to composer Jacob Bali and his fondness for Renaissance polyphony with a deft conflation of early music with the modern.

“Six Moments Musicaux, Op. 44” (2005) is a major mature work via six brief but impactful expressions. Finally “Arioso” (2009) pays tribute to Walter Levin and the LaSalle Quartet, who staunchly advocated new music composers for more then 40 years. The music is “in the manner of Alban Berg.” And that concludes the program. By concentrating on just the Quartets and presenting them chronologically Quatuor Molinari gives us pinpoint insights into the development of Kurtag’s music from a terse rigor to a profoundly free but no less terse expressivity.

These are beautiful performances of significant works. The release is a must for high modernists. And a fitting last post for 2016. Onward!

© Grego Applegate Edwards - Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

American Record Guide
3 janvier 2017

The Quatuor Molinari plays Kurtag with admirable authority and nuance...

Pour la critique complète, cliquez ICI

MusicWeb International
22 décembre 2016


György Kurtág’s complete string quartets span a compositional career of over half a century, beginning in 1959 with his Quatuor à cordes op.1. It was twenty years before he returned to the medium, with his Hommage à Mihály András, 12 microludes for string quartet. Then there was a gap of ten years before Officium Breve in Memoriam Andreae Szervánsky. The remaining oeuvre were conceived between 1991 and 2009, the year Kurtág composed Arioso -Hommage à Walter Levin, cast ‘in the style of Alban Berg’ commemorating the 85th birthday of Walter Levin, founder of the LaSalle Quartet (review ~ review).

The composer spent a year in Paris between 1957 and 1958 following the Hungarian uprising in 1956. This was a crucial and formative time, when he studied with Max Deutsch, Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud. Personal problems intervened, however, and he began to suffer from depression, for which he sought therapy from the psychologist Marianne Stein. The treatment was a success and provided a stimulus for his artistic development. During his Paris sojourn he encountered the music of Anton Webern, a discovery of immense significance. Kurtág's music became strongly influenced by Webern as well as by the music of Béla Bartók. He became a celebrated performer of Bartók's piano music.

Undertaking a profound study of Webern’s music, which included recopying his works, enabled Kurtág to imbibe his working methods and style. These inform his own compositions. Everything is pared to its essentials, stripped down to bare bones, with not a note too many. Concise structures are the name of the game. Marianne Stein had suggested economy of gesture to remedy his creative block. So, his music is reduced to fragments or shards, and these are used as building blocks, with each individual note making a particular impact. His Op. 1, the only work accorded the formal title of "String Quartet", displays this focus of approach. It’s an amalgam of Webern’s concision and Bartók's rhythmic buoyancy. It portrays his journey from abyss to life, from darkness to light. Octave leaps, ostinatos, piercing harmonics and unsettling contrasts are all part and parcel. He also throws in some Messiaen-like birdsong for good measure. He dedicated this thought-provoking work to Stein, and it set him on the road to becoming one of Hungary’s prominent composers.

Op. 1 set him on a course. The other works for string quartet in all but name are homages to composers, performers and friends. Hommage à András Mihály, Hungarian composer, conductor and cellist, consists of twelve microludes corresponding to the twelve degrees of the chromatic scale. Officium breve in memoriam Andreæ Szervánszky comprises fifteen short movements utilizing variation, paraphrase and quotation. Alfred Schlee was head of a music publishing firm in Vienna, and saved many scores from falling into the hands of the Nazis. He did much to champion the avant-garde. Kurtág pays homage to him in Aus der Ferne (From afar) III and V. Hommage à Jacob Obrecht is dedicated to János Bali, a mathematician, choir director and composer who studied with Kurtág. The inspiration that Bali derives from Renaissance polyphony is mirrored in the polyphonic complexion of the work, without ever losing its Hungarian character. Even the Six moments musicaux op. 44, composed for the 2005 Concours International de Quatuor à Cordes de Bordeaux, bears a dedication to his son Gyurinak, himself a composer. Two of the six movements are homages to fellow musicians György Sebők and Leoš Janáček, and in their entirety cover a wide range of emotions. Invocatio (1) is confident and assured, whereas Footfalls (2) sounds tentative. The Sebők movement (4) is elegiac and Les Adieux (VI) in the manner of Janáček is plaintive. Arioso is a homage to Walter Levin, first violin of the LaSalle Quartet, on the occasion of his 85thbirthday. Between 1947 and 1987 the ensemble made a speciality of programming contemporary composers, with a particular emphasis on the Second Viennese School. Arioso may be just shy of three minutes but Kurtág packs plenty of melancholy à la Berg into the piece.

Acclaimed by critics as 'Canada's answer to the Kronos or Arditti Quartet’, the Quatuor Molinari was founded in 1997 by its 1st violinist Olga Ranzenhofer. It takes its name from the Canadian abstract artist Guido Molinari. Based in Montreal, their focus is on performing 20th and 21st century music, commissioning new works and programming the music of their native composers. As far as alternative recordings go, cycles of Kurtág's string quartet works are not overly subscribed, and I was only able to find one other recording by the Athena Quartett on the Neos label. I haven't heard it to offer any sort of comparison. The Quatuor Molinari’s playing is sharply focused and ensemble is flawless. They’ve obviously lived and breathed these works for some time, and they deliver confident and committed readings. The acoustic of the Église Saint-Augustin is responsive to the subtleties and nuances of these complex scores. Olga Ranzenhofer's liner-notes provide helpful background. I’ve found this music a revelation.

Stephen Greenbank -  MusicWeb International

24 novembre 2016


« Le jeu très dynamique, mais jamais sec, magnifie la diversité de couleurs et de textures dans cet univers aux événements raréfiés, éparpillés ou plongés dans des figures aux imbrications soudain complexes.» Critique complète ICI

The Rehearsal Studio
14 novembre 2016

At the beginning of this month, the Canadian ATMA Classique label released an album of the music of Hungarian composer György Kurtág entitled Complete String Quartets. Kurtág turned 90 in February, and there does not seem to be any evidence that he is not still going strong. Furthermore Kurtág specializes in miniatures. Placed alongside some of this scores, the works of Anton Webern seem almost gargantuan. This explains why the headline for this article was qualified, since there is no reason to assume that Kurtág has given up on writing for string quartet, particularly when any act of composition can involve such minimal physical activity.

Because of the duration of Kurtág’s pieces, it should come as no surprise that this “complete” album consists of only a single CD. Indeed, the editor of the booklet seems to have gotten carried away with Kurtág’s reputation. There is a single track for a fifteen-movement piece, one of Kurtág’s many memorial compositions for a fellow Hungarian. The track listing gives the duration of this work as being a bit shy of three minutes! As impressive as this sounds, it was a misprint. Performance of all fifteen movements takes about twelve and one-half minutes, which is a bit more consistent with Kurtág’s style!

The performers on this new album are the members of Quatour Molinari, quartet in residence at the Conservatory of Music in Montreal. I first became aware of them when ATMA Classique released another “complete string quartets” album of another living composer, in this case Sofia Gubaidulina, in January of 2015. (This album was a bit more extensive, since it had two CDs!) Membership of Quatour Molinari has not changed from that time; and the players are still violinists Olga Ranzenhofer and Frédéric Bednarz, violist Frédéric Lambert, and cellist Pierre-Alain Bouvrette. Other adventurous modernists that have found a place in this ensemble’s repertoire are Alfred Schnittke and Canadian R. Murray Schafer.

Getting used to Kurtág’s miniaturist thinking may require some adjustment. Where his piano compositions are concerned, this tends not to be that difficult. Many of his pieces are playful and have been collected under a title that is the Hungarian word for “games.” Where the string quartet music is concerned, there is more of an element of seriousness, probably because so much of the content is memorial in nature. Fortunately, the album begins with his Opus 1, which amounts to a six-movement “abstract” composition. As the booklet notes by Ranzenhofer (translated into English by Sean McCutcheon) explain, Kurtág prepared himself to write his first original composition by copying out Webern’s works. As a result he began to appreciate what could be achieved by working with only a small number of notes without necessarily being bound by grammatical constraints such as those Arnold Schoenberg had developed for his twelve-tone system.

Once he had found his own way, composing was a bit like eating potato chips. It was almost as if he could not complete one piece without feeling the need to launch into another. He also found ways to sneak in appropriations from other sources, even on the small scale. (He calls his Opus 13, a set of twelve pieces collected as a single memorial, a group of “microludes.”) Thus, it is not surprising that his fifteen-movement memorial includes a quote from Webern, while another single-movement piece reflects on the Renaissance polyphony of Jacob Obrecht.

Another composer explicitly acknowledged by Kurtág is Olivier Messiaen. However, even before birdsong is explicitly acknowledged in the fifth of his Opus 44 Moments Musicaux pieces, it is easy to detect by the rhythms and phrasings of bird-calls, even if many of those birds are imaginary. While this is a useful “working metaphor,” my personal thoughts turn to the summer of 1968, when I found myself hunting for mushrooms as part of a seminar that John Cage had organized during his visit to the University of Colorado at Boulder. It was a dry time of year, and mushrooms were scarce. As a result, one of the things I learned was how any number of other natural phenomena could provide clues as to where mushrooms might be found. Listening to this quartet music is a bit like looking for such clues, even if the objective that those clues abet is less well-defined. In a way listening to the pieces on this album is a bit like thinking about how a walk in the woods can be more than just walking in the woods.

© 2016 The Rehearsal Studio

1 novembre 2016

Le Quatuor Molinari, en rési­dence au conservatoire de mu­sique de Montréal, interprète cette musique exigeante avec la rigueur et la précision qu'elle demande sans en assécher la poésie, alternative à l'intégrale du Quatuor Athena (Neos) qui bénéficie toutefois d'une prise de son supérieure.

-Jérémle Blqorle, Classica

Pour lire la critique entière, cliquez ICI.


The WholeNote
25 octobre 2016

Founded 19 years ago, Montreal’s Quatuor Molinari has become one of Canada’s pre-eminent interpreters of 20th- and 21st-century classical compositions, including those by Canadians. In this album however, they venture deep into the string quartet’s European-home geographic and aesthetic landscape.

Like his composer friend and colleague György Ligeti, the multiple-award-winning Hungarian composer György Kurtág (b. 1926) fled his home country following the October 1956 Hungarian uprising. Part of an exodus of a wave of some 200,000 Hungarians, Kurtág used his exile productively as an opportunity to study composition in Paris with Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud. There he also discovered the modernist compositions of Anton Webern and plays of Samuel Beckett. These influences proved decisive in his chosen career.

On returning to Budapest, Kurtág composed his first String Quartet (1959). Dedicated to his psychotherapist Marianne Stein, the work is strongly redolent of the music of the Second Viennese School, while still expressing a personal compositional voice. Webern and Schoenberg can be heard throughout its disjunct dodecaphonic tonal language, its expressive extremes. The work’s tense, dramatic yet aphoristic six movements are riddled with enigmatic, destabilizing silences. It remains a very satisfying – emotional even – listen today. The composer dubbed it his Opus 1, its success launching his career internationally. Quatuor Molinari gives it a precise, clear rendering filled with a light-handed virtuosity, evident commitment and soul.

Kurtág followed his String Quartet with a number of works for these forces. Like his first opus, almost all reference composers, musicians and friends he admired. All are represented here. We hear an aesthetic continuity, certainly, but also one of technique and tone, though in later works hints of tonality peak through the skittering introspection. Kurtág’s music is superbly represented on this CD by Quatuor Molinari.

Andrew Timar - The WholeNote

The Guardian
19 octobre 2016

György Kurtág’s works for string quartet may fit comfortably on a single CD, but they define almost his entire composing career. The score he now acknowledges as his Op 1 was the String Quartet No 1, completed in 1959. In it, Kurtág first displayed what he had learned in Paris from his intensive study of Anton Webern, and effectively laid out the template for so much of the music that has followed: a succession of pieces in which, as in Webern, conciseness is everything, with each gesture reduced to its essence, and expressive worlds conjured in a single, spare phrase.

After the First Quartet, though, Kurtág did not return to the medium for almost 20 years, until the 12 “microludes”, Hommage à Mihály András, appeared in 1978. After that, it was another decade until the next and what is perhaps the finest, most intense of all his quartets to date: Officium Breve in Memoriam Andreae Szervánsky, a sequence of 15 microscopic pieces woven around music by Szervánsky himself and a canon from Webern’s Cantata No 2. Further memorials to friends followed, before the six Moments Musicaux of 2005, composed as a test piece for a string quartet competition, and finally another tribute, the Arioso, “in the style of Alban Berg” that Kurtág composed in 2009 for the 85th birthday of Walter Levin, founder of the great LaSalle Quartet.

This disc makes a slender and massively significant collection – 43 pieces, the longest of which lasts barely four minutes; most are considerably shorter. Though groups such as the Keller and Arditti quartets have extensively recorded these pieces, there appears to have been just one complete survey of Kurtág’s quartets before – by the Athena Quartet on a Neos disc released five years ago – but now not easily obtainable, in the UK at least. That gives the Montreal-based Quatuor Molinari the field to themselves, and in general they make the most of it. Technically, their playing is superb, though just occasionally a little bit more subtlety might have worked wonders. They can be rather forthright and insistent, sometimes almost relentless, but they never leave any doubt about the seriousness and profundity of this music, nor about its intrinsic greatness.

Andrew Clements - The Guardian

La Scena Musicale
29 septembre 2016

5 *
Quatuor Molinari has become Canada’s champion for 20th and 21st-century composition, including recordings of Canadian R. Murray Schafer’s String Quartets, and, more recently, the premiere of his Alzheimer’s Masterpiece (String Quartet No. 13), a moving tribute to the ailing composer. Following the fine recording of quartets by fellow Canadian Petros Shoujounian (Noravank, April 2016) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, with this release Quatuor Molinari has once again proven its vitality and – dare I say – audacity. Hungarian György Kurtág (b. 1926) is what you might call a Known Perfectionist. But for those unfamiliar with his work, his fragmented miniatures might seem to splinter and fracture beyond comprehensibility. A disciple of both Webern and Berg, Kurtág excels in a world invisible to the naked eye and a sonic landscape that pays tribute to the past as much as it forges into the unknown. In this recording of his complete works for string quartets, the longest movement clocks in at a few seconds past four minutes. The shortest? About fifteen seconds. Each moment, however, is brimming with emotional intensity, each gesture meaningful. Throughout each piece, Quatuor Molinari’s interpretations are clear and precise. The early Quartet No. 1, Op. 1, showcases Kurtág’s extremes in tempo, articulation, and harmony, with both Messiaen- and Webern-like figuration. Hommage à András Mihály, Op. 13, features twelve microludes, one for each note of the chromatic scale. Immense in scope, the work is more introspective, showcasing the composer’s growing maturity, which continues in the deeply moving Officium breve in memoriam Endre Szervánszky. Quatuor Molinari treats Aus Der Ferne III and V with both a sure and fragile touch, while its interpretation of Hommage à Jacob Obrecht captures a Hungarian sense of rhythmic vitality contrasted with a timeless vocality. The final two pieces on the disc, Six Moments Musicaux, Op. 44, – composed as the required piece for the 2005 Concours International de Quatuor à Cordes de Bordeaux – and Arioso: Hommage à Walter Levin underscore the quartet’s virtuosity, not only in the nimble gestures, but the ponderous phrases that lightly brush at the sublime.

Kiersten Van Vliet  - La Scena musicale