of them and the soloists derives from the late 9th/early 10th-century Benedictine monk Notker the Stammerer (aka Notker Balbulus), whose liturgical sequences made him an important figure in musical development. It is impossible to say more as, maddeningly, Wergo does not provide the libretto written jointly by Eötvös and the late Péter Esterházy.
Nonetheless, it is not difficult to appreciate the quality of the musical setting, nor the splendid live performance captured in Cologne in 2017. The performers sound at one in their presentation, whether in the hushed choral comments or the chiming percussion that dominates some sections. The whole is more than the sum of its fragments, compelling and involving, as is the purely orchestral companion, Alla vittime senza nome (‘To the nameless victims’, 2016), a three-movement threnody to the countless masses of African and Middle Eastern people dying in waves seeking refuge in Europe. Whether due to the urgency of Eötvös’s expressive intent, his attaining ever greater compositional refinement or the more approachable idiom, Alla vittime is the most affecting and impressive work of his that I have heard. It is brilliantly rendered here by Pappano and the Santa Cecilia Orchestra. Very strongly recommended. Guy Rickards
Holliger . Kurtág ‘Zwiegespräche’ Holliger Airs. Berceuse pour M. Lecture. Die Ros’ (Angelus Silesius). Sonate Kurtág Angelus Silesius: Die Ros’. Einen Augenblick lang. … Ein Brief aus der Ferne an Ursula. …für Heinz …. Der Glaube (Péter Bornemisza). Hommage à Elliott Carter. … (Hommage à Tristan). In nomine – all’ongherese (Damjanich emlékkö). Kroó György in memoriam. Lorand Gaspar: Désert. Rozsnyai Ilona in memoriam. … ein SapphoFragment. Schatten. … summaia a BP. Versetto (apokrif organum) Sarah Wegener sop Heinz Holliger ob/cor ang/pf Marie‑Lise Schüpbach ob/cor ang Ernesto Molinari bcl/contrabass cl ECM New Series F 481 8265 (74’ • DDD)
This disc celebrates the 80th birthday of Heinz Holliger, and although it explores his interpretative gifts as a performer rather than his full range as a composer, its focus on the dialogues between his own music and that of Györg Kurtág (b1928) makes for a beautifully rounded double portrait.
That this is an intensely intimate retrospective is clear from the very first item, Kurtág’s gentle, heartfelt tribute to Holliger’s harpist wife Ursula, who died in 2014. Its poignancy is all the greater since it sounds almost like an impersonation of one of Elliott Carter’s late instrumental miniatures – and Carter, who wrote so memorably for both the Holligers, had himself died just a few months before. But Kurtág, like Holliger, owes even more to the astringent yet profoundly lyrical expressiveness of Webern, and this quality often surfaces, sometimes with touches of un‑Webernian irony, in works like Kurtág’s Hommage à Elliott Carter and … (Hommage à Tristan), which condenses Wagner’s sublime five-hour portrayal of death and transfiguration into a mere 40 seconds for oboe and bass clarinet. As you might imagine, every note counts!
The two most substantial works by Holliger himself are satisfyingly well contrasted. His 1999 revison of his Sonata for solo oboe (1955‑56) remains the work of a phenomenally gifted student, spinning out long lines exuberantly and eloquently to show off the player’s virtuosity of breath control and digital dexterity. But Lecture for oboe and cor anglais (2015‑16) is altogether more powerful in execution and original in conception. Based around seven poems by Philippe Jacottet – the poems themselves are heard in readings by the author before each of the musical ‘settings’ – Holliger packs a whole world of refined and inventive poetic play into a sequence of short movements, the longest less than six minutes. These performances, by Holliger and Marie-Lise Schüpbach, are simply astonishing in their fluency and range of colour, and the depiction of a kind of transcendent avian mayhem in the final movement, ‘Oiseaux’, has to be heard, and reheard, to be believed.
For the opposite extreme to Holliger’s six minutes of dazzlingly diverse sound patterns, you can then move on to Kurtág’s six-minute Kroó György in memoriam for contrabass clarinet, in which only a few barely audible, grief-stricken sounds drift past to disturb the silence. Kroó was a respected Hungarian musicologist and Kurtág’s tribute seems like a very personal farewell to an era of extreme delights and horrors, in which music of genuine vision and deep feeling somehow failed to be totally suppressed. Arnold Whittall
Šerkšnytė De profundisa. Midsummer Songa. Songs of Sunset and Dawnb b Lina Dambrauskaitė sop bJustina Gringytė mez b Tomas Pavilionis ten bNerijus Masevičius bass-bar b Vilnius Municipal Choir Jauna Muzika; a Kremerata Baltica / Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla; b Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra / Giedrė Šlekytė DG F (CD + ◊) 483 7761GH2 (56’ + 54’ • DDD • NTSC • 16:9 • PCM stereo • 0) DVD: ‘Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla: Going for the Impossible – A Portrait’
Lithuanian new music is coming into its own, an impressive release of �ibuokle˙
Martinaityte˙ (5/19) now followed by one of Raminta Šerk≈nyte˙ (b1975), who attracted wider attention with Fires, championed by the late Mariss Jansons (BR-Klassik, 12/13), and De profundis (1998) for Kremerata Baltica. Compared to its previous version, Mirga GraΩinyte˙-Tyla favours a more spacious and less visceral yet comparably intense approach – audibly relishing this music’s acute contrasts as its earlier anguish becomes progressively diffused towards a sombre and questioning close.
Here it forms a combative centrepiece between Midsummer Song (2008) and Songs of Sunset and Dawn (2007). The former is a contemplation of the summer solstice in fastidious textures and elliptical harmonies that between them outline a vision more bewitching for its elusiveness. The latter is a ‘cantata-oratorio’ with texts by Rabindranath Tagore – a poet most notably set by Zemlinsky, although the emotional volatility of his Lyric Symphony is worlds away from Šerk≈nyte˙’s piece and its purposeful course from the diaphanous calm of ‘Day. Evening’, through the fugitive activity of ‘Night’, then on to the surging radiance of ‘Morning. Eternal Morning’. For all their soaring lyricism, the four soloists most often function as semi-chorus to the actual choir as this merges into the orchestra for what becomes an indivisible whole.
The work is persuasively conducted by Giedre˙ Šlekyte˙, but it is GraΩinyte˙-Tyla’s international emergence that forms the subject of a filmed ‘portrait’ by Daniela Schmidt-Langels. Footage of her directing Tchaikovsky and Debussy in Birmingham and Berlin, or Lithuanian music in Salzburg, is intercut with recollections of her formative years when Lithuania forged its new identity during the post-Soviet era. Most striking is her traversal of the remote Curonian Spit, whose Arcadian landscape provides a striking corollary to Šerk≈nyte˙’s equally alluring music. Richard Whitehouse
22 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2020