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Xenakis: Complete String Quartets

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 5 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: eOne Music
  • ASIN: B001WKHZT6
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #91,601 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Product Description

Xenakis: String Quartets

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Amazon.com: HASH(0x97b5cb1c) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97adb894) out of 5 stars Amazing - and Very Au Courant Feb. 24 2010
By JMB1014 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Iannis Xenais is clearly a hit in New York City these days. Several of his works were featured there on June 21, including a piece for percussion, "Persephassa," which was performed outdoors and on platforms floating in Central Park Lake. A substantial article about him appears in the March 1, 2010 issue of "The New Yorker." An exhibition at the Drawing Center in New York shows how he combined his visual and musical ideas. While I am not an expert on modern music, I do appreciate how amazing are the four string quartets on this album as exercises in spatial music design. The playing by the quartet called JACK is outstanding: fierce, clear and resonant. The sound is superb and the price is fair.

Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) was part of the Greek Resistance during World War II. After the war, he worked as an engineer and architect. From 1947-1959, he was part of the studio of Le Corbusier in Paris. Even his musical compositions contain mathematical notations. Xenakis is regarded as one of the most important of modern composers and has dozens of pieces to his credit, including several for large ensembles and innovative settings. He was a pioneer of electronic and computerized music. Fortunately, he also published a set of essays promulgating his views on composition, entitled "Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition" (1971).

While these four works are dissonant and highly challenging (they are composed "stochastically," meaning with random variables - and I gather acquaintance with probability theory makes them more comprehensible) they are truly rewarding to hear in themselves, and so splendidly performed that this CD gives real pleasure. It has won substantial critical acclaim and includes the only recorded performance of "Ergma," Xenakis' final quartet, written in 1994. (You can also see the performances on surround sound DVD, which must be purchased separately. I have seen excerpts and it is worth it to watch the DVD.) If you are adventurous or just love modern music, string quartets, or all of the above, I highly recommend this disc.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97adbb64) out of 5 stars Ear-cleansing March 9 2010
By Kuru - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I had the privilege of hearing the JACK Quartet play this music live last year in a memorable concert. They are a group to rival the Arditti Quartet as masters of new music. This is an essential album for anyone interested in the music of the late 20th century.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97adbb28) out of 5 stars Xenakis attracts dedicated young advocates for his fierce vision! July 12 2012
By Autonomeus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The JACK Quartet (from the first letters of the players' names -- John Pickford Richards on viola, Ari Streisfeld and Christopher Otto on violin, and Kevin McFarland on cello) took NYC by storm in 2008 with their live performances of these Xenakis string quartets, subsequently recorded by Mode. This is the first complete set of the Xenakis quartets to be recorded -- the last one, "Ergma" (1994) had not been written at the time of the 1991 Arditti Quartet recordings for Montaigne. James Harley, leading English-language Xenakis expert, provides the authoritative liner notes.

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 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 Montaigne 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!

It must be said that the last two quartets, from Xenakis's late period which began in the late Eighties, are not as good. The JACK Quartet plays them to the hilt, and interspersed with the earlier works they serve to give a full picture of Xenakis over the various periods of his composing life.

"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. Harley has much to say about the formal logic of the piece, but to this listener it suffers by comparison to "Tetra," lacking the multi-dimensional complexity and the excitement. "Ergma" (1994 -- 8'30) is stripped down even further, and is characterized by harsh dissonance, maximum loudness throughout, and double stops, with a thick, intense sonority. Suffice it to say, the two later works would not be nearly as compelling on their own. As part of this integral program of Xenakis quartets, they can be seen as a valid part of the greater whole, and that is why I give the disc the full five stars.

We are fortunate, and the composer's legacy is fortunate, to have such talented, energetic, dedicated interpreters! Now there is a live recording of the JACK Quartet playing "Tetras" in 2011. The JACK Quartet's recording of James Dillon's String Quartet No. 6 is available in the Donaueschinger Musiktage 2010 set, back-to-back with recordings of the same piece by the Arditti Quartet and the Quatuor Diotima. And they have recorded all three of Helmut Lachenmann's quartets, no doubt in an attempt to make themselves more accessible...

Anyone who enjoys Xenakis and/or the best cutting edge string quartets should also hear Liturgia Fractal, the phenomenal cycle of string quartets by the young Spanish composer Alberto Posadas, who carries on in the tradition of Xenakis!

See my XENAKIS: A LISTENER'S GUIDE list for more reviews and recommendations.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97adbe1c) out of 5 stars Xenakis/JACK: Obviously Essential! March 14 2012
By 21st Century Reviews - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
What is there to say here? The sound quality alone is state of the art. The performances are invisible. The JACK produce a wonderful sound.

The only real comparison to make is with ERGMA. The Mondriaan, for whom it was written, produce a very nice and feral sound for this most grinding/grating of works. The JACK produce a more laser-like and incandescent sound, as if one were effortlessly mining through a mountain.

Obviously, everyone loves this cd: it's been #1 on the Amazon Xenakis Hit Parade since it came out.

Kudos to Mode, and Brian!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97adbe7c) out of 5 stars great recording Feb. 20 2014
By Sam McKnight - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
It's really a no brainer - the JACK Quartet is quickly becoming THE dominant string quartet in the world, and their recordings of Xenakis's quartets leave nothing to be desired. So why wouldn't you buy this album? Especially since it is currently less than $4.