For the average listener, emigre Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti will be best remembered, if at all, for his contribution to Stanley Kubrick's movie "2001: A Space Odyssey." He shared musical glory with Johann Strauss, Richard Strauss and What-Not in that epic, where musical action was considerably busier than dramatic action. Admittedly, though, Ligeti's segments seemed to be the ones that were going nowhere at the most deliberate pace, both musically and dramatically.
Thus all the less did that experience leave one prepared for the emotional impact of the composer's new Trio (1982) for horn, violin and piano introduced here Saturday night by the Theater Chamber Players. It is a work that goes straight to the feelings -- complex and sophisticated though it is -- in a way fundamentally different from the Ligeti one has heard before. The TCP's director and pianist, Dina Koston, had been singing its praises for weeks, and she was quite right.
The composer calls the work, "Hommage a Brahms," a reference to the fact that only Brahms wrote -- to this listener's knowledge -- a similarly substantial composition for this combination of instruments (it was surrounded by Brahms, lovingly played, on Saturday night's program).
But beyond the Brahms coincidence, I would ascribe the Trio's passionate roots more to Barto'k, Ligeti's countryman and fellow e'migre'. There are obvious folk relations, especially in the syncopations of the second movement, a whirlwind "vivacissimo" and in the wiry sounds of all the instruments, often at the limits of their ranges (the very soft horn notes in the shattering final movement actually led one customer to complain to an usher about electronic distortion).
And it was in that final movement that the work came closest to Barto'k, in the great intensity of its "Lamento," a highly vocal work in which the piano is dominant, in rhetoric of great eloquence that seems derived from the suffering that illness has brought upon Ligeti in recent years. This was one of those premieres for which the Theater Chamber Players make themselves indispensable. One would have hated not getting to know this Trio.