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Chamber Music Society Performs Ligeti's Trio

05.05.15
Jeremy Denk
New York Times

Every student who aspires to a career in classical music should be able to do what the pianist Jeremy Denk did on Sunday afternoon at Alice Tully Hall. I’m not just talking about playing beautifully, as he did in works by Beethoven and Ligeti for a program with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

I’m referring to the chatty and insightful prep-talk Mr. Denk gave before performing Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano, “Hommage à Brahms,” a seminal 1982 work by this giant, who died at 83 in 2006. Mr. Denk began by pointing to the oversized printed scores that his colleagues (the violinist Erin Keefe and the horn player Jennifer Montone) had placed on their matching pairs of music stands, a “sure sign,” Mr. Denk said, that we had come to “the notorious new music portion of the program.”

But Ligeti’s trio, he assured the audience, is a stunning masterpiece, an ingenious modern work that also looks back at music with “nostalgia, distance, loss and farewell.” The piece nods to Brahms’s trio for the same instruments. Ligeti uses one of the most familiar tropes in music, a horn call, as a crucial motif. 

He explained that the breathless second movement was like a combination of Bulgarian folk dance and bebop, a succinct, perceptive description. He verbally sputtered the jagged rhythms of the third movement, calling it a “diabolical march” that avoids settling into any steady pulse. It’s “deliberately discombobulating,” Mr. Denk said. The finale movement, true to its title, is a wrenching lament. Though Ligeti wrote other laments, this one is the “most shattering, most extreme of all,” he said.

After that introduction, there was almost a palpable sense of anticipation in the hall. The performance, no surprise, was exhilarating, even that crushing finale, which came across here as an angry, slashing lament. During the ovation many people stood and cheered.

After intermission Mr. Denk, Ms. Keefe and the fine cellist Efe Baltacigil gave a commanding account of Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio, full of character and alert to the audacious things that happen in a piece that can seem, on the surface, so magisterial.  
 
Read the rest of the review here