Ligeti Études: Danny Driver

It’s amazing yet not surprising how quickly Ligeti’s piano Études entered the international repertoire, with recordings by Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Fredrik Ullén establishing themselves as the catalogue’s reference versions by the early 2000s. Many contenders have taken up the gauntlet since then, with Danny Driver’s latest offering counting among the strongest.

Like most pianists who commence ‘Désordre’ at an optimistic clip, Driver’s tempo slackens and his double-note textures thicken as the music progresses, though not to an alarming degree. However, his subtle contouring of contrapuntal voices in ‘Cordes à vide’ gives an impression of elasticity that belies the reality of his steady tempo. He articulates the cross-rhythmic interplay of ‘Touches bloquées’ with the utmost independence from both hands and maintains a relaxed repartee between the left-hand scales and right-hand chords in ‘Fanfares’, although some listeners may prefer a brisker, lither approach (either Ullén or Eric Huebner, for example). Driver builds the central climax of ‘Arc-en ciel’ carefully and shades the gorgeous harmonies without milking them.

In contrast to Jeremy Denk’s astringently angular ‘Automne à Varsovie’, Driver allows the ostinatos more resonant breathing room. He similarly takes more time over the marimba-like patterns of ‘Galamb borong’, while the motoric writing of ‘Fém’ murmurs rather than revs up. The undulating inner rhythm Driver conveys in ‘Vertige’ justifies a slow tempo that’s antipodal to Yuja Wang’s brighter, suppler traversal (DG, 8/09). I’ve heard more shimmering renditions of the ‘warped music box’ ‘En suspens’, yet Driver’s resolutely clear background ostinatos in ‘Entrelacs’ rightly evokes soft mallets as opposed to cushy clouds. And because Driver doesn’t stampede through ‘Coloana infinita˘’, for once you can hear the actual pitches in those murky chordal pile-ups. The four Book 3 Études are no less detailed and vocally informed via Driver’s polished fingers and mindful musicianship. These qualities find a literary counterpart in the pianist’s informative, caring and well-written booklet notes. In essence, Driver’s Ligeti Études complement rather than compete with Aimard and Ullén, and that’s high praise.

Jed Distler, Gramophone
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