Anu Komsi and Patricia Kopatchinskaja Draw Listeners into Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments

08/02/2016

 Kurtág: Anu Komsi (soprano), Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin). Royal Festival Hall, London, 7.2.2016 (MB)

Kafka Fragments, op.26

György Kurtág is the last man standing. Although not quite a member of the ‘post-war avant-garde’ in the sense that composers such as Boulez, Stockhausen, Nono, Berio, Ligeti, et al. were, he is of that generation, and has had much in common with them. When, as a boy, I first became seriously interested in music, all of those composers, bar Nono, were alive; now, following the death of Boulez, only Kurtág remains. If his international star perhaps burned a little less brightly to begin with, that was probably because, unlike his fellow student Ligeti, he remained in post-1956 Hungary. Kurtág’s aphoristic style, however, owes arguably as much to Webern as does the music of any other of those composers; indeed, Kurtág learned a great deal from copying out Webern’s scores. Kafka Fragments is one of those Kurtág works constructed out of, yes, fragments; in 1985, it was the largest such to date. Although it has received a good few performances recently, this was my first opportunity to attend one, intriguingly programmed as part of the Southbank Centre’s Changing Minds 2016 weekend mental health festival.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, who had performed Schumann’s Violin Concerto as part of this same festival, the night before, was joined by Anu Komsi to perform this work of forty fragments. My impression was that this was an unusually broadly-conceived performance; even allowing for having started five-or-so minutes late, and for pauses, it lasted considerably longer than advertised. The work’s progress did not, however, drag; indeed, on both a micro- and a macro-level, one was drawn in, Nono-like, to listen. Collaboration between the two artists was, as it would have to be, extremely close; this was a performance that partook of the gestural, indeed almost of the staged, as much as of the musical, without in any sense minimising the musical achievement. The fine booklet note by Bruce Hodges offered an excellent simile, which, to me penetrated to the heart of the performance as well as the work: ‘The singer and the violinist are equal partners, like two gnarled branches, intertwining as they age, each subtly affecting the growth of the other. (Kurtág loves the strange trees in the Parc Montsouris in Paris.)’ From the weary tread of the violin’s Schritt in the opening ‘Die Guten gehn im gleichen Schritt’, the voice itself emerged. Or had it been there all along, silent? Such thoughts were not, I hope, just pseudery, although you may think otherwise, but rather a consequence of the closeness of collaboration, both musicians playing from a single score.

Mood – perhaps, given the circumstances, an especially important consideration – ranged widely, whilst rarely, if ever, registering as unambiguously bright. The texts are, after all, by Kafka. Violinistic ferocity in ‘Ruhelos’, followed by the whispering of the fragment’s single word, might have led anywhere; only after the event did it seem necessary for Kopatchinskaja to have taken up her own challenge, in the next-but-one fragment, ‘Nimmermehr (Excommunicatio)’, with virtuosic descending figuration, quickly responded to by its inversion, or something close thereto. The ultra-melismatic writing of ‘Die Weissnäherinnen’ was relished by Komsi, just as was the alternation between Sprechstimme and song in ‘Zwei Spazierstöcke (Authentisch-plagal)’. Dance rhythms from old Mitteleuropa haunted the ‘Chassidischer Tanz’ as they did ‘Szene in der Elektrischen’, its kinship with Bartók especially resonant. Webern naturally came to mind on several occasions, none more strongly than in the high-altitude stillness of ‘Träumend hing die Blume (Hommage à Schumann)’; so, however, perhaps did the mountain-lake tranquillity, that yet moves, of the slow movement to the Hammerklavier Sonata. My own fancies? Perhaps; who knows? The openness of work and performance was, I suspect, not entirely neutral, though, in provoking such reflection.

Liszt in Mephisto-mode had swiftly followed in the closing number of the first part, ‘Nichts dergleichen’, preparing the way, or perhaps not, for the single number in the second part, ‘Der wahre Weg (Hommage-message à Pierre Boulez)’. This seemed, and I mean this not at all in a negative sense, to last quite some time; as for minutes on the clock, I have not the faintest idea. However, as something akin to a still, small voice of calm spoke, we experienced the arduous nature of the path that ‘goes by way of a rope that is suspended not high up, but rather just above the ground’. As if, paradoxically, rejuvenated through the exhaustion that entailed, the third part changed tack in nervy yet bright fashion with its opening ‘Haben? Sein?’

Was it just the language of ‘Der begrenzte Kreis’ that provoked a momentary thought of Pierrot? Difficult to say, but I think it was something more, however difficult or impossible to put into words; the musico-dramatic prowess of the performers almost certainly played a part too. When it came to the fourth and final part, the opening ‘Zu spat (22 Oktober 1913) sounded ‘too late’ indeed: no hysteria, just quiet despair, all the more deadly for its soft-spoken motion. The line ‘Ich lebe rasch’ in the ensuing ‘Eine lange Geschichte’ seemed to burn itself out, almost as if delivered by Don Giovanni himself. It was the ecstasy, the extremity of the post-Gurrelieder Wild Hunt that seemed to haunt ‘In memoriam Robert Klein’: almost, yet not quite, necessitating the measured diagnosis of ‘Aus einem alten Notizbuch’. I say ‘almost, yet not quite’, since the relationship between the fragments is often difficult to describe; one feels it, yet one seems not really to know it. The halting progress one makes in that respect as listener is perhaps not unlike that the performance evoked in ‘In memoriam Joannis Pilinszky’. The closing ‘Es blendete uns die Mondnacht’ provoked all manner of conflicting reactions concerning the fragments and their assembly. Such is surely as it should be, given the centrality of the fragment to any consideration of the modernism whose flame yet flickers and burns in Kurtág’s art.

Mark Berry

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • NEW! The Twelfth English Music Festival Coming Soon in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Kenneth MacMillan’s The Sleeping Beauty at the London Coliseum in June __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018/19 Birmingham Classical Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe Star in The King and I at the London Palladium __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 BBC Proms __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera Celebrates its 25th Anniversary with Nicolò Isouard’s Cinderella __________________________________
  • NEW! Pop-Up Opera’s 2018 Mozart Double Bill __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Let’s Dance International Frontiers (LDIF) 2018 Celebrates its Eighth Year __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Chess at the London Coliseum from 26 April for 5 Weeks __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! The London Orchestra Project’s Metamorphosen on 27 May at LSO St Luke’s __________________________________
  • NEW! MARKUS POSCHNER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Massenet’s Thaïs at the Cadogan Hall on 23 June __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Carly Paoli Sings for Chelsea Pensioners, at Cadogan Hall, and Signs for Sony/ATV __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • NEW! A First Charity Classical Music Concert at Finchcocks on 27 May __________________________________
  • NEW! MICHAEL SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! Trinity Laban Moves to Abolish All-Male Composer Concerts __________________________________
  • NEW! ARABELLA STEINBACHER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR LAURENCE EQUILBEY IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! Newly Discovered Song by Alma Mahler to be Performed in Oxford and Newbury __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month