CD: Ligeti: Complete Piano Music, Fredrik Ullen

(BIS, two CDs)

The 18 piano Etudes that Ligeti composed over the two decades before his death in June this year are perhaps the most significant addition to the solo-piano repertory since the works by Messiaen and his pupils in the 1950s. Ligeti's studies not only redefine the boundaries of the possible in terms of piano technique, but also hint at the directions - rhythmic and harmonic - his music might have taken had he been able to tackle more large-scale projects in the final years of his life. Together with the first recording of L'Arrache-Coeur, a piece Ligeti composed in 1994 as the 11th Etude but then rejected, these endlessly inventive pieces occupy the first of Fredrik Ullen's two discs. On the second, Ullen plays the music for two pianos, recording both parts himself, and a range of early pieces, some of them still unpublished and never recorded before. The technique is immaculate, the clarity remarkable, but Ullen's playing can seem rather too relentless, hard-edged and machine-like, so Pierre-Laurent Aimard's Sony recordings of the Etudes remain unchallenged.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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