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Ligeti Series Starts Off With Dazzle

**** LIGETI: The Gyorgy Ligeti Edition, Vols. 1-4 (Sony Classical)

March 02, 1997|Mark Swed

In defiance of all the sour talk about cutbacks in classical music recordings, Sony has begun a new 12-part series that will, over the next two years, include the complete works of Gyorgy Ligeti, a modernist composer widely admired in intellectual circles but not exactly a record-industry moneymaker. Who knows, however--these first four volumes are so utterly dazzling that Sony just might turn a profit on them. (Ligeti, you might remember, did catch on once--he's one of the composers included on the soundtrack of "2001.")

The first releases already demonstrate his remarkable range and development--from Bartok and folk influences, through the Boulez/Stockhausen avant-garde to his current interest in acoustic phenomena combined with profound observations of the human condition.

The performances, all under Ligeti's supervision, are exceptional. Esa-Pekka Salonen, a great admirer of Ligeti, will be responsible for all the orchestral music in the series, although thus far he only appears on Vol. 4, which is devoted to mixed vocal works (and is an excellent all-around introduction to the composer), conducting pristine performances of "Aventures" and "Nouvelles Aventures."

The Arditti String Quartet brings to the string quartets on Vol. 1 an unequaled mastery and ardor. On Vol. 3, Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays the 15 solo piano etudes (which sonically pattern chaos the way fractals do visually) with a virtuosity that has the ear constantly asking for a reality check. On Vol. 2, the London Sinfonietta Voices sing the a cappella choral works, mostly from Ligeti's early years in Hungary, with care and a touch of panache.

But it is the sound itself, the newness of it, that is most likely to enthrall the listener. Unusual for a composer, Ligeti happens to be a fetishistic audiophile, and Sony has captured the immediacy of this sonic wonderland better than it has ever been realized on disc. It thus becomes as much a sensory pleasure as an intellectual thrill.

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