One of the truly grand old men on the music scene today, György Kurtág composed his Kafka-Fragmente in the mid-1980s, and these forty settings of text fragments by Franz Kafka remain one of his most often-performed works. Although the cycle contains no single narrative thread and tells no coherent ‘tale’ it has become quite common to present it in staged versions – perhaps because of the hypnotic images that emerge in the texts, as well as in the music. Many of the movements are extremely brief; in the present recording 11 of the movements are less than half a minute long, and the shortest (Es zupfte mich jemand am Kleid / Someone tugged at my clothes) lasts only 13 seconds. However, to quote the insightful liner notes by the musicologist Philippe Albéra: ’Within these miniature spaces, expressivity – as if through a process of crystallization – is pushed to its utmost limits.’ Collected by the composer, the texts have been extracted from Kafka’s letters, diaries and notebooks; shards that together form a mosaic at times sardonic, absurd, lyrical or humourous. Kurtág’s ability to convey a wide range of situations and emotions transforms each fragment into a vision of dreamlike intensity, where the real becomes surreal, and Albéra finds a symbol of the spirit of Kurtág’s music in the 16th fragment, Kein Rückkehr, and Kafka’s aphorism: ‘From a certain point on, there is no going back. That is the point to reach.’ The often highly virtuosic and demanding score is here interpreted by the soprano Caroline Melzer and the violinist Nurit Stark, both performers with a strong commitment to contemporary music who collaborated with composers such as Aribert Reimann, Sofia Gubaidulina and Viktor Suslin.
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