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Lux Aeterna

Artist: Gyorgy Ligeti
Gyorgy Ligeti - Lux Aeterna; Three Fantasies on Friedrich Holderlin CD
Label: Harmonia Mundi
Regular Price: $19.95
On Sale For: $16.97 
Year: 2008
Format: CD


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Ligeti's Sonata for Solo Viola opens this interesting disc, interspersing three of the six movements of this piece as breakups to the choral music. The Sonata is a late work (starting in 1991) composed of two movements (two and three) that were originally created as separate works, with four additional pieces coming later to complete the canon. It would have been nice to hear the whole thing, though the piece itself (curiously played without equal temperament applied, giving it an almost archaic sound) is something of a throwback to basic, earthier harmonies and concepts. I like it, but don't think it very lovable.
Lux aeterna is of course very lovable, the 2001 A Space Odyssey formulary now seared into our modern consciousness. Seriously, the work is a contemporary masterpiece, one of the most affecting and almost gruelingly intense portrays of Divine Light to ever come our way. One simply must sit back and let all of the nuanced sound events wash over you one by one--it is a splendid and radiant experience. I am not as sold on this performance as I am by the luminous one by Meredith Monk and company on a 15-year old disc on the RCA Catalyst label--that one is sung with the thrill of new discovery by as energetic and fully committed a choral mistress as has ever been heard from. This one by the Amsterdamers is gorgeously rendered, even ethereal, though perhaps lacking the last degree of mystical encumbrance that Monk displays in her recording.
The 1982 Three Fantasies after Friedrich Holderlin sees the composer revisiting some of the more radical avant-garde word-painting techniques of the 1960s. The voices come close to almost obliterating the text, so that we are moved to hear this music almost as an instrumental composition with the words secondary. Related to this music is the piece by composer Robert Heppener (b. 1925). This Dutchman was a product of the post-war modernist movement, though with some temperance. His setting Stonework of parts of the poems by Romanian writer Paul Celan is a model of expressive nuance and textual subtlety. The music unfolds naturally and yet in a challenging manner, daring us to ignore it even though we may not be completely cognizant of all its mysteries. I thought it the second-best piece on the disc, after Lux aeterna.
The sound is excellently rendered on this disc and most of the performances worthwhile, though I maintain my reservations about Lux. If this is enough for you, there are ample rewards to be had.
Susanne van Els, viola/ Cappella Amsterdam/ MusikFabrik/ Daniel Reuss, conductor
Lux Aeterna
Drei Phantasien nach Friedrich Holderlin
Sonata for Solo Viola
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