Playing Games With Mozart And György Kurtág

Review by: Jens F. Laurson


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 9

Pianist Melissa Galosi’s recording titled “Games” is a clever recital mixing Mozart and György Kurtág at their most playful selves. The title refers both to the whimsy of a variety of Mozart’s Variations and Kurtág’s series of miniatures collectively named “Játékok” (Hungarian for “Games”) that embody a child’s spirit, even if they aren’t children’s or pedagogic exercises (even if they are in spirit near Bartók’s Mikrokosmos). Mozart is represented with his “Ah! vous dirai-je, maman” (a.k.a. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) Variations, the ten K. 455 Variations on “Unser dummer Pöbel meint” on a theme by Gluck (the bass aria “Les hommes pieusement pour gascons nous prennent” from La Recontre imprévue, to be precise), and the less familiar Twelve Variations in B-flat on an Allegretto K. 500, which receives a marvelously no-nonsense yet sensitive treatment from Galosi.

The arrangement of Kurtág’s music as part of a bouquet of music isn’t new; just think of Marino Formenti’s absolutely formidable recording Kurtág’s Ghosts (Kairos), which served the inclined listener Stockhausen by way of Machaut, sprinkled with miniatures of Boulez, Beethoven, Schubert, and Bartók, making you wonder along the way where Scarlatti ends and Kurtág begins. Galosi’s Mozart-Kurtág combination (and, incidentally, her playing) is a little simpler, a little more straightforward, and a little less eclectic. But it works very neatly, just the same. You just have to approach it from the right end, depending on your predilections.

If you are equally fond of the modernist quirkiness of Kurtág’s endearing music (here stripped of any forbidding complexity) and Mozart’s breezier side, you will delight in the light-spirited see-saw between two masters across two centuries. If you are curious about Kurtág, but not generally sold on modern music, you might find that Mozart—who dominates the play-time between the contemporary miniatures—might ease you into Kurtág’s idiom. If you like Kurtág and are curious about the Mozart, you might find the Játékok-pieces charming palate-cleansers between rounds of Wolfgang-Amadeus. Think of sips of whisky taken with a cigar: The former is meant to enhance the latter, not the other way around.

Only if you are coming just for the Mozart might you find the unfamiliar world of Kurtág to spoil the enjoyment. (Albeit not as drastically as the Mozart Requiem/Haas “Klangräume” concoction, that David Vernier reviewed here.) In that case, you’re better off with someone like Kristian Bezuidenhout for K. 500, included in Vol. 5/6 of his Mozart survey on Harmonia Mundi; and for “Ah! vous dirai-je, maman” you might want to hear Lise de la Salle’s take (Naïve), where her occasionally taffy-pulling style comes out to the very best possible advantage.

Then again, it would be a pity to make it an either/or proposal. The sense of simple fun that this recital exudes is enchanting. “Games” feels like the musical equivalent of playing a series of brief sessions of marbles: something to get lost in—until it ends on a delicately wistful note with Kurtag’s homage to his friend and publisher, Alfred Schlee, with “Aus der Ferne IV”. The notes for releases in this budget line of the Col Legno label are available only online. The recorded sound is excellent: direct but not dry.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Album Title: Games
Reference Recording: K. 256: Lise de la Salle (Naïve); K. 455: Andreas Staier (Harmonia Mundi); K. 500: Kristian Bezuidenhout (Harmonia Mundi)

  • Melissa Galosi (piano)

Share This Review: