Iannis Xenakis & Edgard Varèse


mode 58

Xenakis Edition 3-“Xenakis & Varèse”



mode 58 IANNIS XENAKIS, Vol.3–“Xenakis & Varèse”– XENAKIS: Dämmerschein for large orchestra; Persephassa for 6 percussionists; La Déessee Athéna for baritone, percussion solo and chamber ensemble; VARESE: Amériques for large orchestra–Philip Larson, Timothy Adams/Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic/Juan Pablo Izquierdo.

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Xenakis Edition 3-"Xenakis & Varèse"

Iannis Xenakis

Dämmerschein (1994)
for large orchestra.  (first recording)

Persephassa (1969)
for percussion ensemble

La Déesse Athéna (1992)
for baritone, percussion solo & chamber ensemble
Philip Larson, baritone
Timothy Adams, percussion  solo
(first recording)

Edgard Varèse

Amériques (1918-1922)
for large orchestra
The Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic
Juan Pablo Izquierdo, conductor

This remarkable disc brings together two leaders  of the 20th century avant-garde: the early French iconoclast Edgard Varèse and Iannis Xenakis, who now lives in France. Varèse’s influence on modern music is indisputable — from the later avant-garde, to Frank Zappa to movie soundtracks — all borrowed from Varèse’s unique style. He has also had a direct influence on Xenakis muiscally and personally, where the two collaborated on Varèse’s electronic work Poème Electronique for the Brussels Worlds Fair.

Conductor Juan Pablo Izquierdo has had much experience directing Xenakis’s music and other modern masterworks. Xenakis was invited by Izquierdo and Carnegie Mellon University for an extended visit featuring a festival of his music. All three works were prepared and recorded with the composer’s supervisionl.

Dämmerschein (“Rays of Twilight”) is one of the latest large orchestra works by Xenakis. An energy-charged, volcanic composition from the first note to the last, its massive contrasting blocks of sound give the aura of light through music.

Persephassa is a classic in Xenakis’ œuvre and one of the great percussion ensemble works.

La Déesse Athéna is a thickly scored chamber work, with the instruments often playing in their most aggressive ranges. The virtuoso baritone part calls for the singer to range from his lowest register to high falsetto, effecting the dual male/female nature of the Greek deity Athèna.

Finally, Varèse’s monumental Amériques, for a huge orchestra including 11 percussionists and sirens, was influenced of the urban landscape of New York – a thing of violent beauty. At the climax, the full power of the orchestra is unleashed in one of the most expansive and impressive passages in the entire orchestral repertoire. A sonic experience richly recorded and guaranteed to blow you out of your seat!


Iannis Xenakis
Dämmerschein / Persephassa / La Déesse Athéna

Mode 58

The Mode disc places another late Xenakis orchestra piece from 1994 alongside a crack performance of Varése’s Amériques. With its German title, Dämmerschein (Rays of Twiight) making explicit reference to Wagner’s Die Götterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods), this is a one-off Xenakis piece with a harmonic language that falls as close to tonality as he ever dared. The high-energy level and dramatic sweep is, however, absolutely characteristic. The disc also contains Persephassa (1969) – a curly constructed 26 minute piece for percussion ensemble – and La Déesse Athéna (1992) for baritone voice singing in the stylized falsetto Xenakis created for his theatre piece Oresteïa.
— Philip Clark, The Wire, July, 2006

Iannis Xenakis
Xenakis and Varèse

Mode 58

Agrupar, en un mismo programa discográfico, obras de Varèse y Xenakis, es una propuesta excelente del sello Mode en esta prestación de la Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic. Si, además, en el registro aparecen dos obras de Xenakis de los años 90 no grabadas antes, como son la formidable pieza orquestal Dämmerschein y la vocal La déesse Athèna, más la célebre Persephassa, junto a un clàsico de Varèse, Amériques, las expectativas que crea el registro se disparan. Sin embargo, no todo son aciertos en esta grabación. La pieza de Varèse se encuentra ante el problema de la fuerte competencia que existe en el mercado fonográfico. Tanto la lectura de Amériques que hace Boulez con las New York Philharmonic (Sony) como la de Chailly en la integral de Decca, con las orquesta del Concertgebouw, han puesto el listón muy alto en lo que respecta al análisis sonoro y la comunicación de tipo sensorial que se pueden obtener de esta obra maestra. Aunque la dirección de Juan Pablo Izquierdo en el sello Mode consigue una presencia real y efectiva de los componentes bruitistas de Amériques (las sirenas, fundamentalmente), la lectura resulta, en conjunto, poco brillante, poco lucida. Izquierdo no sabe articular la pieza desde el fuerte contraste entre los restos de tinte impresionista de la primera sección de la pieza con el torbellino sonoro que se desata en la fabulosa secuencia de cierre, cuya gradación del material, formidable en Boulez, es ofrecida por Izquierdo en una simple sucesión de planos sonoros.

La orquesta americana está mucho más cerca del ideal en una obra como la demoledora Dämmerschein, de Xenakis, contemporánea de otros dos grandes logros del autor greco-francés: Horos y Ata. Como en ellas, Dämmerschein deja ver, tras la energía volcánica de su trazo, que crea una tensión constante e inalterable, una red de motivos que, por su clara perceptibilidad, otorgan al discurso ese halo casi romántico, apasionado, de todo el período final de Xenakis. La obra es impresionante y se encuentra entre lo mejor del autor, como lo es la pieza para seis percusionistas, Persephassa, en donde Xenakis, de manera extraordinaria, monta un discurso novedoso (en timbre, en espacialización del sonido) a partir de la aplicación de todas las técnicas que ha venido desarrollando hasta ese momento en las piezas para instrumentos de cuerda. En cambio, La déesse Athéna, para barítono, percusión y conjunto, es una obra totalmente prescindible. Xenakis, una vez más, muestra aquí su falta de dominio en el empleo de la voz y, como en Medea u Oresteia, el intento por recuperar en lo posible el canto ancestral conduce a un material demasiado hierático.
—F. R.

Edgard Varèse: AMERIQUES

Philip Larson / Timothy Adams, Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic / Juan Pablo Izquierdo

…a long-awaited new recording of 1969’s percussion classic “Persephassa” (hands up those of you with the old silver Philips vinyl with the Percussions de Strasbourg). “The piece exploits in a new manner the Screen Theory or the logical function of residue classes modulo m”, Xenakis tells us, though if you haven’t managed to make it through his book  “Formalized Music” yet (don’t worry, not many have) this doesn’t matter; the fact that the work was written and scored from thousands of mathematical calculations makes no difference–this is still going strong after thirty years.

Instead of filling up the disc with other Xenakis orchestral music, .Juan Pablo Izquierdo opts for Varèse’s 1921 classic “Amériques”, in so doing inviting comparison with the mighty Boulez NYPO recording. In fact, the Carnegie Mellon students equip themselves rather well, and the mix brings out some odd pockets of instrumental activity I hadn’t noticed before . the ending knocks Boulez out of the ballpark, thanks to the apocalyptic baritone fire siren from the local Mount Lebanon Fire Station–God help your ears if ever your house burns down in Pittsburgh.
—Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic Review,
November 2000

Iannis Xenakis/Edgard Varèse
Dämmerschein/Persephassa/La Déesse Athéna/Amérique
Mode 58

Dämmerschein is built of big smeary blocks of unheralded orchestral colour. Excruciated strings slide between piercing winds and rumbling brass. The result is a queasy monumentality, robust romanticism excavated by fear, a turbid premonition of new emotional realms. The quantity of event squeezed into ten minutes is stunning. Supervised by the composer, the performance (by the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic under jan Izquerdo) and the recording (by Riccardo Schulz) capture the multi-activity of Xenakis’s score. The violence done to classical propriety is immense, yet deployment of symphonic resources ensures that Xenakis emerges like their aspirant to the classical legacy.

In contrast, the percussion piece Persephassa is bombastic and hollow. Drums do not have enough depth to allow Xenakis to employ his fine ear for timbre: the 26 minutes become an exercise in pretentious art-space “ritual”. Written in 1969 for performance in Iran, Xenakis’s commitment to myth and acoustic “science” overrode any qualms about accepting the hospitality of the notorious Shah. Issuing a recording of street events in Teheran during the 1979 revolution would be more politically admirable – and probably more musically interesting. Some final tinklings and swishings are preferable to the vacuous theatricality that precedes them, but hardly evidence of musical genius.

La Déesse Athéna combines painfully silly falsetto with yeat more drama school drums and some toothsome clusters. Words on democracy by Aeschylus – “Never pollute our laws with innovations” – highlight the absurdity of Xenakis’s attempts to wed artistic modernism to ancient philosophy. The nod to Wagner in the title of Dämmerschein is appropriate. Xenakis is another fine arranger caught in wilfully idiosyncratic – and potentially reactionary – metaphysics.

No such problems with Edgard Varèse’s 23 minute Amériques from 1922 New World futurism expressed in a montage of impressionism, sirens and alchemical violence. In Varèse’s historico-materialist aesthetic gesture never overreaches sonic actuality. The performance here is fleet, the string writing realised with close-focused precision. Perhaps the initial flute motif is played a little too softly but by the end Izquierdo manages to bring off the coherence via cataclysm that was Varèse’s intent. Half an hour of great new music an exceptional discs.

— Ben Watson, The Wire, March 1998


Harold Lewis, in his review of mode 58 had this to say:

“Mode 58, the latest CD in Mode Records’ Xenakis series, contains, in addition to three works by Xenakis, the best performance and recording I have yet heard of Varese’s Ameriques. Juan Pablo Izquierdo conducts the excellent Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic in a reading of tremendous authority, fully alert to the changes of mood, pace and texture, bringing out the intricate detail and subtlety of the scoring as well as the stark power of the work. The performance is aided by superb engineering, offering a marvellous concert-hall ambience, wide but natural dynamic range and sound that is clean and sharply focused–a thousand miles away from the muzzy, upholstered fuzz often perpetrated these days by Sony Classical and DG. Varese enthusiasts who don’t yet know this recording should get their hands on a copy as soon as possible.”


Iannis Xenakis on Mode:
Iannis Xenakis Profile/Discography

Atelier UPIC web site