The Sayings of Peter Bornemisza


GYRGY Kurtag is not a prolific composer and suffers from frequent bouts of creative block. Indeed, after writing The Sayings of Peter Bornemisza in 1968 he was plunged into "compositional paralysis" for more than three years, unable to begin his next work, Games. But of the 40 or so works the 78-year-old has produced, each is a finely cut gem with every note precisely deployed to maximum effect.

The Sayings, a song cycle for soprano and piano, features short passages from the sermons of Bornemisza, a leading Reformation figure in Hungary. It is divided into four movements - Confession, Sin, Death and Spring - and the fragmentary nature of the texts is well-suited to Kurtag’s sparse, but richly textured, scoring. Soprano Maria Husmann impressed with an astonishing vocal dexterity, able to plunge to the depths of the register one moment and scale its heights the next. Most of the vocal lines are smooth and serene, with the occasional whisper and keening sound. The accompaniment, by contrast, barely stays still. Pianist Llyr Williams constantly zipped from one end of the keyboard to the other in flurries of gorgeous chord clusters and spectacular glissandi.

While each of the movements had a particular emotional tone, the whole of this mesmerising work is treated with extraordinary sensitivity and humanity by Kurtag. In particular, the movement on Sin exudes tenderness and the vivid descriptions of the decaying process of human flesh in Death are among the most poignant and poetic passages in the cycle. This was a ravishing performance of a challenging work and confirms that the late-night concerts are once again the place for musical adventure.