CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Briefly Noted: Kafka-Fragments

available at Amazon
György Kurtág, Kafka-Fragmente, Anna Prohaska, Isabelle Faust

(released on August 19, 2022)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902359 | 58'06"
György Kurtág composed the Kafka-Fragmente from 1985 to 1987, a song cycle on bits of text gleaned from Franz Kafka's diaries, letters, and unpublished stories. Like much of Kurtág's music, each of the forty movements is a dense, carefully thought out nugget of music. The piece grabs the ear from the first moment: in this new recording, as violinist Isabelle Faust plods along on an oscillating major second, soprano Anna Prohaska first joins her ("the good march in step") and then spirals around her in disjointed staccato dissonance ("unaware of them, the others dance around them the dances of time").

Some movements have the chaotic feel of Sprechstimme, à la Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire, while others are lushly melodic, such as the hypnotic "Berceuse I." The two performers are paired beautifully, both up to the virtuosic demands, extended techniques executed with perfect intonation. One of the longest movements, "Träumend hing die Blume" (The flower hung dreamily), is offered as an homage to Robert Schumann. Prohaska and Faust draw out its gorgeous lines beautifully, answered by the disconcerting shrieks of the movement that follows it, "Nichts dergleichen" (Nothing of the kind), which is embedded below.

Faust and Prohaska made this recording in May 2020 in a Berlin studio, which must have been surreal given the circumstances. Der wahre Weg, the longest piece in the set at almost seven minutes, is a drawn-out drone of sorts, addressed as an homage/message to Pierre Boulez. Its text, by chance, captures some of the sense of the lockdown year: "The true path goes by way of a rope that is suspended not high up, but rather just above the ground. Its purpose seems to be more to make one stumble than to be walked on." The same goes for a text that appears twice in the cycle, as Fragments 11 and 25: "Slept, woke, slept, woke, miserable life." After living through the coronavirus lockdown, the sentiments of this complicated piece now strike me in new ways compared to previous years.

No comments: