Priceless individuality and imagination inform the eighteen piano Etudes that György Ligeti left us (at the time of his death in 2006 he was drafting some more). If these gems are very much the preserve of Pierre-Laurent Aimard, it’s good to have a challenge to the Frenchman’s Sony recording. Danny Driver is technically fearless and musically insightful in his revealing the variety that this music yields, not just in tempo, mood and picturesqueness, but also in depth of expression.
Listening to these pieces at a single sitting (close on an hour) allows for no sameness. ‘Désordre’ (reminding of Conlon Nancarrow’s rhythmically complex creations) suggests that Driver has, needs, four hands, whereas ‘Cordes à vide’ is expressive and ethereal, rather Bartókian, played sensitively.
They are the first two Etudes. All eighteen (divided into three Books) compel the attention, whether the liquidly flowing ‘Fanfares’, the touching simplicity of ‘Arc-en-ciel’, the scampering/spiky ‘Fém’, the dizzying roulade of notes that make up ‘Der Zauberlehrling’ (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) or the Prokofiev-like spectacular and spiralling ‘L’escalier du diable’ (The Devil’s Staircase) during which ‘Old Nick’ seems to fall down the steps and has to start the upwards journey again.
Book 3 of the Etudes is only four in number, beginning with the haunting if interrupted ‘White on white’ and ending (albeit not as planned) with a frisky ‘Canon’.
Andrew Keener’s immaculate production values and David Hinitt’s top-drawer recorded sound (St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London; October 2019) conspire a classy release of terrific music and dedicated performances aided by the pianist’s very readable booklet note – for Driver, the immersion in Ligeti’s Etudes has been “an exhilarating and exhausting venture”. Hyperion CDA68286.
The greatest work for solo piano of the last 50 years. This is a quite stunning account, superbly recorded.