This Timpani disc is the second in the label's project to record all of Iannis Xenakis's orchestral works. (A box set of all five discs has subsequently appeared.) As always, Arturo Tamayo leads the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. Now, I am a bit concerned about the reliability of these performances, as many Xenakis scores cannot be fully realized by even the greatest virtuosos, and these Luxembourg players and their conductor aren't exactly big names. Still, if you are exploring the wild output of one of the 20th century's most original composers, this series makes it easy.
"Antikhthon" (1971) has an eerie opening, where three clarinets play multiphonics. Sometimes it sounds like electronic effects, at other times like free jazz. After a few drum beats, the rest of the orchestra enters, but never at its full power. Rather, we find a series of distinct episodes, some rhythmic with one or two instrumental groups in the spotlight, others with a mixed cloud of sound. Glissandi are very prominent here, with strings sliding all over the place.
"Jonchaies" (1977) is one of Xenakis' greatest pieces, combining a number of disparate sections into one movement of unstoppable flow: savage, pounding rhythms slowly give way to stochastic clouds. This performance here is competitive with what until now has been the standard one on disc, Gilbert Amy leading the Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique on a Collegno disc.
"Lichens" (1983) opens with scurrying strings. Massive block-like textures are built up, with drum explosions and descending brass. This has the strongest sense of organic development of the pieces here, and it's a veritable concert for orchestra in its highlighting of each member of the massive ensemble.
Finally, "Shaar" (1983) maintains much of the violence of the first three pieces, but uses only strings. Though in only one movement, the work proceeds through several discrete sections separated by suspenseful pauses.
So I hope I've succeeding in communicating just what variety of sounds and aggressive textures you'll find here. Xenakis' music may frighten those who expect classical music to neatly resolve in a tonal fashion and provide a sense of relaxation, but for listeners who want music with balls, this is it. Whether you collect the individual discs or get that box set, the four pieces here are good place to start with Xenakis' orchestral music.