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Chamber Music 1



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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars classic Xenakis in a changing world,ferocious/gentle playing June 8 1999
By Rachel Abbinanti (tusai1@aol.com) - Published on Amazon.com
All the great Xenakis pieces are here from different points in his life. It was someone's plan to have the young and the not-so-old Xenakis with points within the same genre here like the two string quartets and the cello and piano solos.The piano solo"Herma" when written in 1960-61 was considered utterly impossible to play.A mere 9 minutes of unrestrained frenzy,of changing, shifting registers,somehow Xenakis thought of different voices emerging spatially. His latter piano solo music engages more concentrated densely packed structures continuously unfolding like some uniterrupted part of nature gone bad, as in "mists" Also"evryali" which means something of a frenzy and has become the pianists balloon trip around the globe.Helffer seems to work better at this music than the older Schoenberg generation repertoire I've heard him play. He has a light unarrogant touch,going for the brightness of sound. The cello solos are great here as well by a premiere Xenakis interpreter Rohan de Sarem,who really has been in the Arditti shadow too long, Here in "Nomos Alpha"(another early work 1966) was the high point of computer usage,but for Xenakis it was all a means toward creating his endpoints his music of primordial affinities. Xenakis if you ever read him in interviews maintains an aesthetic that praises the naturalness of sound constitution,how a graphic image can portray sound. "Nomos" is a great example of that, with rugged resonant plucking mixed with quarter-tone moments acting as stopping points within the unceasing momentum, the glissandi as well and the double stops sounding like a B-52 about to take off.The violin solos "mikka" a mere 4 minutes is from 1971 and Arditti here is a great Xenakis player. The most difficult aspect of playing any Xenakis is that your traditional performance experiences doesn't help you. You need to start from scratch,knowing that there is another form of tone production and alternate concepts of what constitutes a beautiful tone.The solo violin piece"mikka" exploits the various glissandi, in fact it is a one-idea piece,Arditti reveals an impassivity as if his instrument and sensibility is a mere conduit for an abstract structure of sound."Tetras" for string quartet is simply one of those works which seems to transcend whatever the composer had in mind. This work seems like music you have never heard before in any way. It inhabits its own gestural sonic world, moving at once a slow then fast pace. You never sense that is it a string quartet,merely a body of strings. All seem to collapse into one sound. But here Xenakis focuses on the smaller particles of sound, as opposed to the "clouds" and "mists" of sound conceptions he is fond of. You never sense a beginning,middle or end. The cello solo"Kottos" is a leathery sounding excursion into repetition,unrelenting brutalized momentum. These qualities inform much of the latter solos Xenakis has written.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Molecular Xenakis -- music for one to five musicians May 14 2013
By Autonomeus - Published on Amazon.com
This is by now a classic set of chamber music by Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001), best known for his massive orchestral and electronic works. I was disappointed when I first heard it because I expected to find more string quartets. As it happens, Xenakis did not work that much in the string quartet form, and of his four quartets only "Tetras" is among his masterpieces.

THE MUSIC
Taking this set, recorded in 1991 at WDR Koln and Radio France, as a survey of his chamber music, I can't give it less than five stars. Claude Helffer on piano, born the same year as the composer and so 69 years old when he performed these notoriously difficult works, and the Arditti Quartet play marvelously. Irvine Arditti and David Alberman play violin, and I assume Arditti plays the solo violin pieces and the violin & piano duet though the liner notes do not specify. Garth Knox plays viola, and the great Rohan de Saram plays cello.

The earliest quartet, "ST/4" (1956-62 -- 12'56), was not written as a quartet at all. ST stands for "stochastic music," and Xenakis developed algorithms in the late Fifties to generate music from probabilities. ST/4 was extracted from the larger piece ST/10 (there was also an ST/48), and used for a string quartet which was finalized in 1962. The resulting quartet is fascinating -- pointillistic, with lots of space and extended techniques, as well as incredibly dense passages, the level of density resulting from the algorithm. I do not consider this piece one of Xenakis's masterworks, but it is fascinating and compelling.

"Tetras" (1983 -- 17'33) is one of Xenakis's absolute masterpieces, and one of the greatest string quartets of the late 20th century. Dedicated to the Arditti Quartet, it is one of the composer's most effective chamber works, bringing to the quartet the level of complexity, energy, and audacity that marked so many of his works for large forces. As James Harley says, "In 'Tetras,' Xenakis's abstract thinking had evolved into a nonlinear, multi-dimensional web of formal and sonic relationships." The title is Greek for "four." According to the liner notes by Harry Halbreich, the piece is divided into nine sections, and throughout the four players mainly play as a sound mass rather than polyphonally: 1) glissandi, 2) percussive & pizzicati effects, 3) glissandi, 4) pointillistic sounds, 5) sustained chords to runs to glissandi, 6) harsh double-stops, 7) a violin & viola duo, 8) a metrically complex tutti, and finally 9) strong tremolos subsiding into pianissimo glissandi. This is far more schematic than the piece actually sounds -- it sounds exhilarating, phenomenal, and totally amazing!

"Tetora" (1990 -- 13'41), another word that means "four," is austere and somber. It opens with a modal melody, moves through great blocks of dissonant chords, all using a steely non-vibrato sonority, building to a great climax. Xenakis composed a fourth string quartet, "Ergma" (1994 -- 8'30), after these recordings. It can be found on the Xenakis: Complete String Quartets disc, recorded by the JACK Quartet. It is stripped down even further, and is characterized by harsh dissonance, maximum loudness throughout, and double stops, with a thick, intense sonority. It must be said that "Tetora" and "Ergma," the last two quartets, from Xenakis's late period which began in the late Eighties, lack the multi-dimensional complexity and excitement of "Tetras."

After "Tetras," I find the two works for solo cello to be the most powerful and compelling of these chamber works: "Nomos Alpha" (1966 -- 15'22) and "Kottos" (1977 -- 9'39). The solo violin pieces are short, and while the solo viola piece ("Embellie") is longer, none of the three make nearly the same impact as the cello music. "Nomos Alpha" revolutionized cello technique, and while "Kottos" is not as radical, it is quite beautiful, despite Xenakis's instructions to the performer to "abstain from beautiful sounds." There is also a string trio, "Ikhoor" (1978).

The works for piano include the piano quintet "Akea" (1986), the solo works "Herma" (1960-61), "Evryali" (1973), "Mists" (1980), and "a.r." (1987), and "Dikhtas" (1979) for violin and piano. I continue to warm up to Xenakis's piano music, but lacking the ability to play glissandos, which are such an integral part of his vast structures of sound, I have always found it less compelling than his string music. Helffer is masterful, and some of these pieces are more accessible than you would think!

THE PACKAGE
Naive has reissued this set in a deluxe box (Xenakis: Chamber Music), but the only advantage of the box over this standard jewel-box version might be price. The music is identical and the liner notes are mainly identical, though actually two small things found here are omitted: a nice chronological table of the compositions by type and year, and a glossary of terms such as arborescences, glissando, sieve, and stochastic. Harry Halbreich's essay is informative, with additional commentary on each composition.

*** *** ***

Xenakis is one of the greatest composers of the late 20th century, and this set is mandatory listening for anyone interested in the best of the post-war avant-garde.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing and impressive! Nov. 23 1998
By Jung, Sung-Young(syjung@lgcit.com) - Published on Amazon.com
Amazing sound! incredible performance! I cannot imagine how such a exquisite sound can be performed with string intruments. I never heard such a marvelous sound, It is unforgettable experience. I think that the title work, "Tetra", is most amazing and worth to be evaluated as new musical revolutionary works. It is also amazing that all works are based on mathematics such as statistics, stochastic process, group theory... This CD shows that Xenakis's contribution to make connection with mathematics and music.
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Xenakis- Just Don't Pay $5000!! Jan. 22 2014
By 21st Century Reviews - Published on Amazon.com
Better these these original covers whilst they still can be had under $20! There are maybe up to four listings of this older issue, and three different covers I believe. The set that separates 'likers' from 'lovers'!
4.0 out of 5 stars Xenakis's vast ideas played by smaller forces May 14 2013
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
A lot of people come to Iannis Xenakis' music through big orchestral pieces like "Metastasis" or "Jonchaies". The composer nonetheless wrote an enormous amount of music for piano, solo strings, and string quartets and quintets. This Naive disc, a 2000 reissue of an early 1990s Montaigne release, presents these small-scale pieces in performance by the Arditti Quartet (here Irvine Arditti, David Alberman, Garth Knox, and Rohan de Saram) and pianist Claude Helffer.

"Evryali" for piano (1973) might be the best way into the collection. Its bouncy rhythms and fairly tame harmonies are immediately appealing. Its virtuoso demands increase steadily until the climax when left and right hands seem in completely different worlds entirely. It is "modernist" and "angular", but also joyful and engaging. Much the same can be said for the short "A r. (Hommage a Ravel)" for piano (1987), with its lovely ascending and descending runs punctuated by chords, and the long "Mists" for piano (1981) delights in music of separate thick strands, creating lovely clouds of sound. On the other hand, "Herma" for piano (1962) belong to Xenakis' early period of bleep-bloopy stochastic music.

Then there are the solo string works, which are relatively straightfoward. In "Mikka" and "Mikka 'S'" for violin (1971-1976), the performer plays a musical line consisting only of glissandi. In "Embellie" for viola (1981) Xenakis celebrates the rich colours inherent in this instrument, making a very pleasurable contribution to the viola golden age we're living in (it accompanies well the solo viola works of Ligeti, Grisey and Murail). Most striking here will be the allusions to the classical tradition, with the performer at more than one point seeming to channel Bach's sonatas for solo violin. "Nomos Alpha" for cello (1965-66) is one of Xenakis' most hardcore mathematical pieces, generated by the roll of dice. It has every cello technique you can think of, and Rohan de Saram claims that years of grappling with "Nomos Alpha" made him an all-around better cellist. I have to say I prefer Siegfried Palm's performance on a DG reissue which is more rich and expressive. "Kottos" for cello (1977) is also formidable, but with a clear musical line.

"Dikthas" for violin and piano (1979) revisits the concerns of some of the solo works already heard. The violin moves in frequent glissandi, while the piano part is as exhuberant as "Mists". The subtle microtonal inflections on the violin, which produce beating against the piano line, give the piece a great deal of replay value.

And then we have the string quartets. "ST/4" (1962) belongs to a series of computer-generated works, but while the music goes everywhere with wild abandon both pizzicato and sul arco, frequent tremolo gestures seem to keep it rooted. "Ikhoor" (1978) is remarkably similar to Xenakis' orchestral "Jonchaies", opening with the same bouncy rhythms. This is a work of great passion and energy, and will probably appeal to a lot of listeners. The latter two quartets were written especially for the Ardittis. With its isolated creakings "Tetras" (1983) has an air of Lachenmann about it. "Tetora" (1990) is a typical example of the late Xenakis, blocky chords moving in fairly tame rhythms, with vague references to indigenous traditions (I personally hear a little bit of Andalucian music). Sadly the Ardittis never went on to tackle Xenakis' last quartet, "Ergma", written in 1994, which has concerns similar to "Tetora". Finally, there's the piano quintet "Akea" (1986), one of the strangest works here. Here the tropes of Romanticism seem to filter through Xenakis' heavy modernism.

Some have found Xenakis' chamber works to be disappointing, and this I must dispute. While not all the pieces here are gold, I nonetheless find some of these to be among his best pieces. Few pieces show the beauty Xenakis' mathematical approach could produce like "Evryali", and the glissandi writing the composer so loved is still little heard in contemporary music.

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