Mariann Marczi was born in Hungary in 1977 and started playing the piano at the age of four. After receiving her Doctorate of Music at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest, Marczi won several national and international competitions. For this CD Marczi chose works that have played an important role in either her concerts or her academic research. When talking about compiling this CD, she states:-
“I was fortunate to work with György Kurtág at several of his master-classes - during the International Bartók Seminar we did an intense and detailed analysis of his Splinters together. I have also worked several times with Zoltán Jeney and Gyula Csapó on their compositions. My doctoral thesis was the first complete survey to analyse all 18 of Ligeti's Piano Etudes. I selected my favourite, Fém (which means ‘metal’), for this CD. I have presented at conferences on the piano works of Zoltán Kodály and László Lajtha, and I won a prize at the 27th International Smetana Piano Competition Plzen for my performance of Bartók's Three Burlesques.”
This CD offers an assortment of Hungarian piano pieces, from Bartók’s celebrated Burlesques to Gyulo Csapó’s lesser known Ultimate Goal.
As the two pillars of the Hungarian standard repertoire, the music of Bartók and Kodály seems to have incorporated every off-beat quirk of the Hungarian people and has subsequently influenced every other composer in this selection.
Both born in Transylvania, studied in Budapest in the 1940s, influenced by Stockhausen, multilingual and then exiled, Ligeti and Kurtág feature here. Kurtág is perhaps more conventional, borrowing his influences from the past; whereas Ligeti dared to invent a new language containing chromatic tone-clusters and glimmers of parody.
However, with all of the composers on this CD elements of Hungarian folk music, or ‘verbunkos’, can be heard both in the pieces themselves and in Marczi’s performance. This style consists of a slow dance followed by a faster one. The juxtaposition in pace represents the two contrasting aspects of the Hungarian character and serves to keep the listener on the alert.
Maximising the effect and impact of every note and gesture, Marczi plays Kurtág’s Splinters with expressive intensification. These shard-like sections, lasting mere seconds - a few minutes at most - form a compositional journey where each fragment is a deconstructed element, not a conclusive reduction, but a sliver of expansive possibility. Both Marczi and Kurtág speak with a paradoxically quivering directness that absorbs musical tradition, but does not become suffocated by its heaviness. In this way, untrammelled, the unmediated joys and despairs of life are given centre-stage.
Ligeti’s eighth etude, Fem is based on chords with short, irregular, asymmetrically grouped melodic fragments playing off one another. Marczi renders this short piece a chilling pitter-patter of falling raindrops on an uneven surface. Ligeti’s three books of etudes are remarkable additions to piano literature and are canonic masterpieces of allusion and originality.
Kodály’s Méditation sur un motif de Claude Debussy and Seven Pieces for Piano are majestically ethereal and otherworldly. Blending Hungarian folk with French impressionism, Kodály’s compositions are performed with subtle intelligence and heartening gravitas.
In de l’automne du champ, from Contres, Lajtha’s sensibilities are unshackled by Marczi’s sensitivity, astonishing openness and clarity. However, in Lajtha’s music one always hears an intense struggle for revelation and freedom. Debussy’s influence can also be heard in this piece. In an interview when Lajtha was seventy years old, he commented that Debussy was the greatest master of our time and had opened windows for composers to convey their thoughts. This piece enables the listener to gaze out of such a window.
Bartók’s Trois Burlesques pour piano, composed shortly after his Elegies, sees Bartók returning to a relatively simplistic and sparse texture. This folk-inspired composition has a directness of gesture and in its angularity, has numerous ‘modern’ qualities. Marczi’s interpretation dramatises the dialogue between traditional lyricism and sudden, unexpected accents. It might well make the listener recall Bartók’s quip that: ‘It’s no good asking why I wrote a passage as I did. I can only reply that I wrote down what I felt. Let the music speak for itself.’ If Marczi has whetted your appetite for Bartók’s piano pieces, do try Annie Fischer’s recording of his Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs. Fischer’s performance will certainly not disappoint.
Jeney’s works are often characterized by an extremely sparse and static quality. Ricercare is a minimal piece, captivatingly symbolic and utterly poetic. The influence of Pierre Boulez can be heard in Arthur Rimbaud in the Desert. This piece sounds as if we’re three men on Rimbaud’s drunken boat, as we rock listlessly with Jeney and Marczi. To quote from Arthur Rimbaud’s poem entitled ‘The Drunken Boat’, one could say that Jeney takes his listeners:
Where, suddenly dyeing the blueness, delirium
And slow rhythms under the streaking of daylight,
Stronger than alcohol, vaster than our lyres,
The bitter redness of love ferments!
Csapo’s The Ultimate Goal startles with a crashing opening and elemental sounds. His mathematical compositional technique is not cold or mechanically constructed, but organically moulded. Marczi’s notes seem to hang, suspended in a muted, timeless world. More accessible than Cage and Feldman, Csapo’s music is also largely influenced by literary figures: Beckett, Rumi, Racine, Kafka, Artaud and the Hungarian poet Janos Pilinsky.
In short, this CD merits high praise both for its exposé of modern day composers and Marczi’s nuanced, intelligent interpretations.