Classical reviews: Josquin des Prés, Bach and Gyorgy Kurtag

Michael Church
·2-min read
The enigmatic Gyorgy Kurtag composed ‘Signs, Games and Messages', which is performed by Tabea Zimmermann on her CD (AFP via Getty Images)
The enigmatic Gyorgy Kurtag composed ‘Signs, Games and Messages', which is performed by Tabea Zimmermann on her CD (AFP via Getty Images)

Josquin Masses

Hercules Dux Ferrarie, D’ung aultre amer, Faysant regretz

The Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips

Gimell CDGIM051

★★★★★

This CD marks the triumphant completion of The Tallis Scholars’ cycle of Masses by the fifteenth-century composer Josquin des Prés. And as the choir’s director Peter Phillips points out, the first and greatest of these works reflects both the vanity of its dedicatee and the felicitousness of its construction. The Duke of Ferrara liked to hear his name sung obviously and often – he’d have fitted in well in the era of Donald Trump – so the composer took his name and title and turned their vowels into music, to create a neat little eight-note melody. He then ordains that this melody should be sung 47 times, mostly by the tenors. The effects are surprisingly intricate, and the singing here has a lovely warmth and freshness; the other two works have subtly different colourings. The acoustic of the Oxford chapel in which this music is recorded is perfectly appropriate.

Tabea Zimmermann: Solo II

JS Bach: Suites No 3 and No 4; Gyorgy Kurtag, 6 pieces from Signs, Games and Messages

Tabea Zimmermann, viola

Myrios MYR026

★★★★★

It comes as a revelation to hear Bach’s cello suites performed on a viola by this great German musician, Tabea Zimmermann. Here they have a dynamism never achieved on the cello, and her playing has a wonderful eagerness and persuasiveness. But the six works by the enigmatic Gyorgy Kurtag – who devotedly plays Bach on the piano - are no less of a revelation: with the shortest lasting just 45 seconds and three just over one minute, their grouping (by Zimmerman) into a suite to echo Bach’s six-movement works creates a brand-new sound-world. With no bar-lines and almost no speed markings, they present big challenges: at one point, says the violist, the left hand must be so tense that it hurts. Tersely suggestive, and at times emotionally explosive, these little pieces open up intriguing new landscapes.

Read more

Classical reviews: Arvo Pärt and Bach

Classical reviews: Bach, Brahms and Britten

Classical reviews: Schubert and Russian Cello Sonatas