Pierre-Laurent Aimard was the first pianist to record Book One of Ligeti's preludes on an Erato release from the early '90s, which also included the first recording of the composer's Trio for horn, violin, and piano. The preludes were so dazzling and Aimard's playing was so dazzling that it was astonishing when the composer went on to write an equally dazzling second book and then a third, and when, in this performance of the first two books and the beginning of the third, made in 1996, Aimard surpassed his earlier effort. His playing is even more assured and incisive than before and each prelude is more strongly characterized. What's particularly remarkable is the way he differentiates the various layers of sound Ligeti creates. In the first prelude, "Désordre," for instance, he clearly articulates figures simultaneously moving at four different tempos. Aimard plays "Arc-en-ciel," a marvel of shimmering ephemerality, with exquisite delicacy. In the final movement of Book One, "Automne à Varsovie," the ending is so cataclysmically violent that it takes the listener's breath away. Ligeti's practice of layering multiple tempos continues to characterize many of the pieces from Book Two, and Aimard negotiates its staggering technical and musical demands with athleticism and grace. The three books of preludes (including two not recorded here) are indisputably among the most substantial and significant works for piano of the late twentieth century. It was a brilliant programming decision to pair the preludes with Ligeti's very early collection of piano pieces, Musica Ricercata (1951-1953). The composer traveled far afield from the aesthetic and technique of these miniatures, which are somewhat Bartókian (but clearly the work of an original thinker), with his experimental pieces like Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures, and the micropolyphony of Lontano and Atmosphères. One can hear in Musica Ricercata, though, the creative germ to which the composer returned late in life, which was to be fully developed in the preludes, a fascination with ostinato, rhythmic propulsiveness, a visceral directness in communication, and a sense of playfulness. The Ligeti completist will also want to own a set of the complete books of preludes, but Aimard's extraordinary performance makes this disc an essential part of any Ligeti collection.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Etudes (6) for piano, Book 1|
|Etudes (8) for piano, Book 2|
|Musica ricercata, pieces (11) for piano|