No other piano music written as recently has established a place in the repertoire like Ligeti’s Études (composed between 1985 and 2001). It is easy to understand why, with their exhilarating brilliance and mesmerising beauty, these pieces have captured the imagination of players and audiences alike, and they surely count as the summit of the Hungarian-Transylvanian composer’s achievement. Unlike his opera Le Grand Macabre, which already feels dated, these works are here to stay, in the distinguished line of études stretching back via Debussy to Chopin.
They require even more virtuosity, sometimes of a brain-teasing sort, and Danny Driver supplies it all, beginning with rock-solid attack in the polyrhythms of ‘Désordre’. A haunting beauty is quick to arrive in ‘Cordes à vide’, and the contrasts keep coming through the gentle swing of ‘Arc-en-ciel’, the atmospheric ‘Automne à Varsovie’ and the hypnotic ‘Galamb Borong’. Driver paces ‘L’escalier du diable’ (the longest of these brief pieces) securely, and allows the final Canon to evaporate with a shrug, leaving you wanting more. Had ill-health not intervened, Ligeti would have written more; but here the cycle feels satisfyingly complete.