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The fecund imagination of György Ligeti (1923-2006) can be heard to stunning effect in these 18 Etudes, written between 1985 and 2001. The third book, containing four pieces, is unfinished, the composer too ill to add to them by this point. Following in the line of Chopin and Debussy, Ligeti’s invention is a feast for the adventurous mind. Whether polyrhythmic or simply elegant, each piece transports the listener to a different world, although the same compositional rigour is always apparent. The rich variety in this music is apparent from the very first two Etudes – the vivid, rather Bartókian ‘Désordre’ contrasting with the hauntingly beautiful ‘Cordes à vide’, which is dedicated to Pierre Boulez.

Highlights in the second book include the scintillating ‘Der Zauberlehrling’, its melodic line embedded into complex textures, and ‘L’escalier du diable’, which scampers up and down the keyboard before eventually running out of top notes and giving way to heavyweight, suitably diabolic chords. The simple white-note statement that opens the third book is brusquely pushed aside by a torrent of speed and ostinato writing. Also interrupted is ‘Pour Irina’, which begins as a tear-stained reminiscence before going crazy. Obsession informs ‘À bout de souffle’, which is properly ‘out of breath’. The final piece, ‘Canon’, collapses to single, bell-like notes, bringing the adventures to an end. Pierre-Laurent Aimard (Sony Classical) remains a wonderful guide to these gems, but Thomas Hell is very much his equal.

COLIN ANDERSON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing