Kurtág Reaches the Edge of Silence

AV2408 - cover

WP 2019 - 2THE EDGE OF SILENCE / KURTÁG: Scenes from a Novel.2-4 3 Old Inscriptions.1 S.K. Remembrance Noise.2 Attila Jószef Fragments. 7 Songs, Op. 22.3 Requiem for the Beloved.1 A Twilight in Winter Recollected 2,3 / Susan Narucki, sop; 1Donald Berman, pno; 2Curtis Macomber, vln; 3Nicholas Tolle, cimb; 4Kathryn Schulmeister, bs / Avie AV2408

This CD picks up where the previous Kurtág disc left off, with more music for soprano accompanied by violin, cimbalom and bass, but here also in two works by piano. American soprano Susan Narucki appears to have a richer, warmer voice that Viktoriia Vitrenko but the same high level of musicality. Her Hungarian diction is not quite as clear as Vitrenko’s but, thankfully, Avie has actually included the lyrics to these songs (with English translations) in the booklet. With the lyrics to follow, you realize how well Kurtág matched the mood of the poems to music—although, as both Leonard Bernstein and Arturo Toscanini said, music is just what it is, even if it is tied to words. The very last piece in the first cycle is surprisingly lyrical and lovely.

And once again, Kurtág keeps the backing to his vocals light: piano in two pieces, but otherwise violin with either cimbalom or bass, and in a few pieces the soprano sings a cappella. At the beginning of 3 Old Inscriptions she even has to whisper a few words before opening up the voice. Yet oddly, although Kurtág asks a lot of his sopranos, he never really abuses the voice. He does not write odd or extraordinarily wide-ranging intervals for his singers, but keeps the tessitura in one part of the range or the other for long stretches of time. Interestingly, S.K. Remembrance of Noise opens with the violin playing the same chord with sustained tone that opens the Stravinsky Violin Concerto. Coincidence?

The Attila Jószek Fragments are the only pieces on this album that are sung completely a cappella, and Narucki handles this challenge with ease. In this piece, however, Kurtág appeared to be less interested in matching music to words as in the other pieces; his music here is more abstract, conveying in some sense the abstract quality of Jószef’s words, such as the examples below:

For seven – I ask myself –
\will you give six, pray?
I’m playing. The merit is
his who was able to play.

Girls’ knees stalk our predatory eyes
and in my fury I could kill a fairy,
though for this leaky, foundling life,
it isn’t – I admit – worth killing.

Kurtág imparts a surreal feeling to the 7 Songs, accompanying the voice solely with the cimbalom. Although the music is atonal but not microtonal, there’s a certain Harry Partch-like feeling about them.

We end this collection with A Twilight in Winter Recollected, in which the soprano is accompanied by violin and cimbalom. The music here is more rhythmic than usual for Kurtág but not conventionally melodic; it often sounds as if the singer and the instrumentalists are operating on different planes, only occasionally coming together in concord, yet the vocal line is more curved and the singer’s legato maintained.

Another outstanding album of Kurtág’s music, brilliantly sung and played.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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