Benjamin Schmid / Hannu Lintu / Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra

György Ligeti: Violin Concerto; Lontano; Atmosphères

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Listeners looking for a good pick to start getting acquainted with the music of Hungarian composer György Ligeti can look no further than this Finnish release. The forces involved, with Austrian violinist Benjamin Schmid and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, encompass both Ligeti's own Central European origins and the profound effect his works have had on the contemporary Finnish school; one would expect them all to do well with this technically difficult stuff, and they do. And the selection of works is ideal. There's Ligeti's one really big orchestral hit, Atmosphères, which appeared in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The logical place to go after that is Lontano (1967), which reflects the composer's tendency to begin with a simple sonority such as a unison and develop a unique tonal world step by step (the beauty of Ligeti is he can't easily be classified as tonal or atonal). There's a major underrated work, the Violin Concerto (presented in its 1993 five-movement form), a technical tour de force in which both the soloist and orchestral players must execute difficult out-of-tune effects. Unusual sonorities abound; the massed ocarinas in the second movement are presumably unique in the repertory. And precisely at the center of the work is a striking representation of musical chaos. With all this under the listener's belt, the album ends with a dense, detailed work of the sort that without context puts listeners off this composer: the San Francisco Polyphony (1974). There's a lot to absorb here, no doubt, but this is the kind of album that will be on repeat.

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