By Lawrence A. Johnson
The University of Chicago Presents’ season-long festival devoted to György Ligeti reached its much-anticipated finale Tuesday night. Pierre-Laurent Aimard brought a pairing of Ligeti and Beethoven to the packed house.
The French pianist threw the series a bit of a curve just a week out by revising his scheduled program. Rather than playing 12 of Ligeti’s 18 Etudes, Aimard offered only five Etudes Tuesday night, with the lion’s share of the first half devoted to Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata.
Completed in 1953, this early work shows Ligeti’s genius for mining a myriad of riches out of limited means. Musica Ricercata is cast in eleven brief parts with the first section built on just two pitches, the second on three, and so on.
Aimard made such a compelling case for these idiosyncratic miniatures that it largely overcame disappointment about the program change. The pianist’s blend of precision and spontaneity charted the steep contrasts in material and dynamics, bringing out the jaunty esprit, the tolling valedictory quality of the two homages (to Bartok and Frescobaldi) and the restless morphing of the music–as in No. 4 where an off-kilter waltz grows more frantic and rhythmically chaotic.