Deutsche Grammophon's budget-priced, four-CD collection of all the works by György Ligeti in its catalog has many things to commend it, beginning with the title. Clear or Cloudy is a profoundly astute description of the composer's career, encompassing both the great sound clouds of his micropolyphonic work of the 1960s, such as Atmosphères, Volumina, Lux aeterna, and Lontano, and the crystalline clarity of his early years, demonstrated in Six Bagatelles for wind quintet and his first String Quartet, as well as in his Etudes pour piano and Piano Concerto from his final period.
The performances here are extraordinary, and some are legendary. In Volumina, Gerd Zacher wrings an incredible variety of sonic possibilities from the organ and shapes them into a chilling aural experience. Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures, with singers Jane Manning, Mary Thomas, and William Pearson and the Ensemble InterContemporain, led by Pierre Boulez, are especially assured, and lead the listener on a frightening, comic, cryptic emotional roller coaster ride. The radiant performances of Atmosphères and Lontano by Claudio Abbado and the Vienna Philharmonic make the most of the scores' glistening mysteries.
If this were intended as a survey of Ligeti's career, one could quibble over the omissions -- the Requiem; the Trio for horn, violin, and piano; and the fact that there are only two of the piano etudes -- but given the fact that it is a reissue of everything Deutsche Grammophon happened to have in its archive, it is a remarkably comprehensive and representative collection that offers a broad and detailed view of the composer's output. It's an ideal introduction to Ligeti for anyone coming to his remarkable work for the first time, and it is also expansive and diverse enough to interest those who are already fans. The set contains over five hours of music, and the program booklet includes an insightful essay by Paul Griffiths. Surprisingly, for a collection coming from so many recorded sources, the sound is consistently excellent, with the appropriate ambience and presence for the various works.