Gyōrgy Kurtí¡g: Jí¡tekí³k (selections)
Gí¡bor Csalog, Andrí¡s Kemenes, piano; Mí¡rta and Gyōrgy Kurtí¡g, muted upright piano
BMC CD 123
Jí¡tekí³k (“Games”), a still-growing collection of short piano pieces by the world’s leading miniaturist, Gyōrgy Kurtí¡g (1926-), lives in the shadow of Bartok’s Mikrokosmos. Again, we see a Hungarian composer assembling piano miniatures with at least a glancingly pedagogical intent. The similarities are only superficial, though; Bartok’s pieces, wonderful as they are, are stern, schoolmasterish exercises compared to the collection of whimsical delights Kurtí¡g has been assembling continually since 1975.
Jí¡tekí³k builds piano music up from its elements: not pitches and rhythms, however simple, but wood, arms, elbows, and keys. Insofar as these are pedagogical pieces (and that is an unanswerable question), they are aimed not at developing technique or dexterity but wonder, creativity and surprise; not at producing pianists, but musicians.
There are 58 tracks on this disc, with a total length of just over an hour; everyone will have his or her own favorites. Standouts for me include “Versetto: Temptavit Deus Abraham (apocryphal organum)”, from Book VI, a wonderfully slanted gloss on pre-medieval polyphony in which the parts approach each other asymptotically but never quite line up the way they should, and the various pieces entitled “Objet trouvé,” based around soft, gently swirling glissandi. But there is, quite literally, something for everybody; the selection represented here is catholic, and ranges from a good-humored fourteen-second bagatelle called “Jumping Fifths” to a collection of long (i.e., two-minute), tolling laments in memory of various Hungarian colleagues and acquaintances.
Gí¡bor Csalog, joined occasionally by Andrí¡s Kemenes for four-hands pieces, plays this selection from the ever-growing collection of “Games” with an air of transparent simplicity and an absolute mastery of touch. Keyboard-sweeping glissandi are caressed with preternatural softness, and never have I heard a pianist’s elbows deployed with such control of dynamics and phrasing. As an added bonus, the composer and his wife perform a handful of selections together at the keyboard of a muted upright piano; they end the disc with a heartbreakingly innocent and calm performance of Kurtí¡g’s arrangement of Bach’s Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit from the Actus Tragicus.
Kurtí¡g, who plays some of these pieces whenever he makes one of his occasional forays onto the concert stage, has recorded his own selection (alongside a larger number of Bach transcriptions) on an ECM disc, which I have not heard. I can confidently recommend this new recording nevertheless. It is charming in the extreme, and filled with unexpected wonders.