György Kurtág, autograph score to Hommage à Bartók (first movement, "Adieu, Haydée I"), Library of Congress (photo by Robert Pohl)
Hommage à Bartók is a suite of movements for piano, both two hands and four hands, dedicated to the memory of the 1940 concert. György played the first sections, twin movements dedicated to the memory of Haydée Charbagi, a professor at the Sorbonne Nouvelle (Université Paris III) who died in September 2008. Márta played the last movement, titled Mártanak (her nickname -- yet another musical tribute by Kurtág to his muse), and husband and wife together played the middle movement, one of the composer's ongoing series of transcriptions of Bach chorale settings for piano, four hands. It was a typical combination for Kurtág, gentle aphorisms in glistening dissonances closer to his teacher, Messiaen, than anyone else, and the contrasting fascination with Baroque counterpoint and active textures.
György and Márta Kurtág, Library of Congress, February 7, 2009 (photo by Robert Pohl)
While the Kurtágs played the new work on the Library's Steinway, they played the first half of this concert on an electronic keyboard, a remarkably sensitive instrument that afforded them a breath-taking control over the dynamic spectrum. They played an engaging series of selections from the collection Játékok, some for two hands and some for four, as well as examples of Kurtág's delightful arrangements of Bach chorale settings for organ, arranged for piano, four hands. (A similar program appears on the couple's 2000 ECM disc.)
Kurtág, Music for String Quartet, Keller Quartet
Kurtág, Játékok and Bach transcriptions, G. and M. Kurtág
Anne Midgette, Kurtágs, From Hungary With Love (Washington Post, February 9)
Vivien Schweitzer, A Familial Collaboration on Music Defying Easy Classification (New York Times, February 3)
Benjamin Ivry, György Kurtág: Great Hungarian Jewish Composer, No Monk (Jewish Daily Forward, January 27)
The Library of Congress hosts two free concerts this week, the Mira Trio this evening (February 10, 8 pm) and the Atrium Quartet on Friday (February 13, 8 pm).