Which members of the 20th century avant-garde connect with audiences enough to make it onto the classical best-seller lists? Increasingly often, György Kurtág does so, and this recording of his Kafka-Fragmente, Op. 24 (1987), was a commercial success in late summer of 2022. Kurtág pursued an extension of Anton Webern's already extreme concision, although he was also influenced, like any other Hungarian of the 20th century, by Bartók. The Kafka-Fragmente are fascinating, and they are exactly what the title suggests: settings of little bits of text by Franz Kafka, who was already aphoristic. Kurtág found resonance in the writings of Kafka -- and later Samuel Beckett -- after his own existential crisis brought on by the failure of the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and his subsequent flight to the West. These texts are organized into four parts, tracing the general theme of a path. They are set to music for violin and soprano, ranging in length from 16 seconds to nearly seven minutes; most are very short. To hold the listener's attention for an hour of this is no small feat, but Kurtág does it. He requires precise, virtuosic performances, and that is what he receives here from violinist Isabelle Faust and soprano Anna Prohaska. Each fragment is entirely different from the others, and it would be hard to imagine two performers more sympathetic to this repertory. They get excellent support themselves from Harmonia Mundi's engineering team at the Teldex Studio in Berlin. This is truly, absolutely original avant-garde music with broad appeal.
György Kurtág: Kafka-Fragmente Review
by James Manheim