Emile Parisien, Roberto Negro: Les Métanuits

The jazzing of Ligeti by soprano and piano, while momentarily peaceful, is largely abrasive and at times stubbornly inaccessible

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Exploring the musical road less travelled is a useful way to think about this duet recording by Parisien and Negro. They celebrate the music of György Ligeti, whose only claim to commercial recognition seems to be when a few pieces of his music featured in the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Ligeti’s quest to explore micropolyphony and microtonality found limited public engagement in his work, but such experimentation is meat and drink to adventurous jazz musicians. With the centenary of Ligeti’s birth having been on 28 May 2023, this might feel like an appropriate time for a reappraisal of his work.

Parisien and Negro have developed a series of improvisations around Ligeti’s String Quartet Number 1: Metamorphosis Nocturnes. They take the original piece of 22 minutes and extend it to 45 minutes or longer in live performance. For the album release, the content has been pruned and the name changed to Les Métanuits.

Given Ligeti’s challenging approach to music, and the influences of Bartók and Stravinsky on this composition from the 1950s, it won’t be a surprise to read that it’s occasionally a tough listen. The musicianship from Parisien and Negro is breathtaking as they develop a complex dialogue between soprano and piano, often pushing their instruments to the limits of exploration.

The music is dramatic, sinister, fragmented, almost tortured in places, such is the intensity unleashed as the music swoops and dives and almost fights with itself. There are moments of calm and peace, but overall this is an emotionally draining listen that remains stubbornly inaccessible at times.

Discography
Allegro Grazioso; Vivace, Capriccioso; Adagio Mesto; Presto; Prestissimo; Andante Tranquilo; Tempo Di Valse; Subito Prestissimo; Meccanico; Alla Marcia Pesante; Largo (38.40)
Parisien (ss); Negro (p). Amiens, France, no date given.
ACT 9964-2