The Music of Ligeti – May 20, 2006

The Music of Ligeti

Who: Aventa
Darnell Linwood, horn
John Lowry, violin
Miranda Wong, piano
Yariv Aloni, viola
Bill Linwood, percussion
Where: Phillip T Young Recital Hall
When: May 20
By Deryk Barker
Times Colonist staff

According to the pianist Alfred Brendel, “you need three or five hands to play Ligeti.”

Brendel was referring to Ligeti’s solo piano music, but I have no doubt that Darnell Linwood, John Lowry and Miranda Wong, who closed Friday’s Aventa concert with a spectacular performance of Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano, would agree that the composer does not allow mere human limitations to interfere with his compositional process.

Dubbed “Hommage a` Brahms” and opening with what Ligeti calls a “false quotation” from Beethoven’s Les Adieux (which I’m afraid got by me before I could catch it), Ligeti’s trio is a monumental and eclectic work. The two quick inner movements had enormous energy: in particular, one could almost have deduced the tempo indication (vivacissimo molto ritmico) of the second movement from the performance, in which Lowry and Linwood wove flights of fancy over Wong’s motoric, almost boogie-woogie-style piano.

It was perhaps the final movement which left the most profound impression. The music is slow and intensely felt, and the composer takes advantage of the difference between the equal-temperament tuning of the piano and the overtone-restricted tuning of the horn – and the violinist’s dilemma at being caught between this particular Scylla and Charybdis. The resulting sonorities were unearthly, strangely beautiful and completely indescribable.

It is a cliche?L that modern music “simply” needs a good performance to convince. Cliche?Ls often have a kernel of truth, however, and Friday’s performance of the Ligeti was a textbook example: so much more than merely getting the notes right (a considerable challenge in itself), it was a truly musical and utterly persuasive performance.

The Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen composed his Six Pieces for Violin, Horn and Piano as a companion piece for the first Danish performance of the Ligeti. Although he does not say so in as many words, Abrahamsen seems to have composed his trio to complement rather than compete with the older work.

While essentially a gentler work than the Ligeti, the Abrahamsen still had its moments of pure excitement, such as the fifth piece, Scherzo misterioso, an increasingly frantic moto perpetuo. The abiding memory, though, is likely to be of the final For the Children, with its quiet exploration of the extremes of the instruments’ ranges.

Once again, the music was superbly performed.

Yariv Aloni and Bill Linwood opened the evening with Michael Colgrass’s Variations for Four Drums and Viola, composed in 1957 and the earliest music on offer.

Although I’ve not come across this work before, it has apparently established itself as something of a modern classic with violists – and it is easy to understand why: Colgrass writes well for both players, with some exquisitely elegiac melodic material for the viola and a succession of rhythmic patterns, syncopated, angular and decidedly tricky.

All of this, needless to say, was played with accuracy, style and boundless enthusiasm.

This was undoubtedly an evening for those who believe that they dislike modern music and that it has nothing to say to them; unfortunately, I suspect few actually attended.