Kurtág's choral music is recognizably the product of the same imagination that produced his exquisite vocal miniatures, the cycles Scenes from a Novel and Messages of the Late R.V. Troussova -- lean, concise, texturally spare, and almost Webernian, while at the same time being deeply expressive. The two a cappella works recorded here, Omaggio a Luigi Nono and Eight Choruses to Poems by Dezsö Tandori, fit that description well. The aphoristic poetry of Tandori, Anna Akhmatova, and Rimma Dalos inspired the composer to create music of comparable economy, and only a few movements last more than two minutes. A chorus is capable of making a huge sound, not an elemental characteristic of the composer's aesthetic, and Kurtág uses the resource judiciously. The choral writing is original, but fully idiomatic, and at the same time ethereally delicate and grindingly dissonant, with great textural inventiveness and gestural variety. The Songs of Despair and Sorrow sound more conventionally choral and are more accessible on first hearing. Using visually descriptive (and longer) texts by nineteenth and twentieth century Russian poets, Kurtág shows great sensitivity in vivid text painting. He employs the accompanying instrumental ensemble with restraint, often using only accordion-like bajans to support the voices. Kurtág's setting of Alexander Blok's "Night, an empty street, a lamp, a drug-store," is especially evocative and poignant. The SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart and Ensemble Modern, under Marcus Creed, give stunningly secure performances of these phenomenally difficult scores. Their surfaces are prickly, but they reward close listening with an experience of profound musical depth and richness.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Omaggio a Luigi Nono, for mixed choir a cappella, Op. 16|
|Eight Choruses to Poems by Dezsö Tandori, for mixed choir a cappella, Op. 23|
|Songs of Despair and Sorrow, choruses (6) for mixed choir & ensemble, Op. 18|