PETER EÖTVÖS: “Kosmos” = Sonata per sei; Psalm 151: In Memoriam Frank Zappa; Kosmos – Grau Schumacher Piano Duo /Schlagquartett Köln/ Paulo Álvares, keyboard – Wergo

by | May 23, 2014 | Classical CD Reviews

PETER EÖTVÖS: “Kosmos” = Sonata per sei; Psalm 151: In Memoriam Frank Zappa; Kosmos – Grau Schumacher Piano Duo /Schlagquartett Köln/ Paulo Álvares, keyboard – Wergo WER6784-2 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (4/08/14) ***:

Hungarian composer and conductor Peter Eotvos is perhaps best known as the director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain, a position he held from 1979 to 1991. I have heard and admired a lot of his music before, in particular his violin concerto, Seven, dedicated to the memory of the seven astronauts who died in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster (Naive records) Eötvös seems to have a fascination with space exploration as Kosmos was written in response to Yuri Gagarin’s famous space flight of March 1961. This is a piano duet basically; but one written boldly and in a scope like an orchestral reduction, were it an orchestral work. Eötvös’ writing reminds me often of older “modernists”, particularly countryman György Ligeti. Just listening to the work does not conjure up anything suggestive of “outer space” or the like, but it is a very interesting work.

Sonata per sei is apparently a reworking of material originally developed in the composer’s 2006 Piano Concerto written to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Bartok’s birth. The structure of the work, utilizing two pianos and percussion is also suggestive of Bartok’s masterwork, the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. Eötvös has often used the music of Bartok (and Ligeti) as points of inspiration from his homeland. Of the works represented here, this is the one that would – in fact – remind people of Bartok in any guise. This is a good work and pretty impressive. This particular combination I’ve always enjoyed with the Bartok and George Crumb’s Music for a Summer Evening being the benchmarks; but Eötvös’s piece fits the short list too!

The Psalm 151 is really a strange but strangely effective work for multiple percussion, four players. When Frank Zappa died in 1993 at only 42, Eötvös is said to have responded with grief and anger. He said, ”One really cannot praise God, but must protest.” Since none of the 150 psalms in the Bible deals with protest, Eötvös composed his Psalm 151. One wonders why he picked the title and context of the psalms, as – indeed – the purpose or theme of the Psalms was not protest but, clearly, the music has a frustration to it. In point of fact, it has an unsettling quality to it that seems intriguing and the fact that Peter Eötvös had this kind of reaction to Zappa’s passing illustrates his very cosmopolitan nature. Clearly Eötvös is not some “modern academic” but a man who appreciates many different art forms.

The more I hear of Peter Eötvös’s music, the more I like it. I can’t really declare it an “easy” listen for the casual listener but, in the realm of contemporary music, he is an important artist and talented composer. I think this disc would be a pretty good introduction to his music (this and the above mentioned Seven.)

—Daniel Coombs