Arditti Quartet / Claude Helffer

Iannis Xenakis 1 - Chamber Music: 1955-1990

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This ambitious and beautifully produced two-CD set includes nearly all of Iannis Xenakis' chamber music for strings, piano, and strings and piano combined. Chamber music constituted a small part of the composer's output, since large ensembles and large forms were vehicles more commensurate with the aesthetic of his monumental, granitic music. There are no small pieces here, though; in each of these works, ranging from solos to a quintet for piano and strings, Xenakis was able to express his uncompromising vision no less ferociously than in his orchestral works. While all of the pieces have an elemental character, many with a visceral punch, the actual sound of the music is surprisingly varied, and the individual works have distinctive and individual characters. In spite of the weightiness and rigor of the music, the tone is not necessarily heavy, and some pieces, like Evryali for piano and Dikhthas for violin and piano, have moments of what could almost be described as whimsicality. The members of the Arditti String Quartet and pianist Claude Helffer tear into the scores with a fiery intensity and a consummate understanding of the composer's work; it's hard to imagine more skilled and committed performances. (Akea, from 1986, was commissioned for and premiered by these players.) The works, written between 1955 and 1990, are not arranged chronologically, which is the single drawback of the set, particularly since the excellent program notes by Harry Halbreich carefully situate the pieces along the stylistic and intellectual arc of the composer's development. Halbreich also offers a lucid explanation of the aesthetic and mathematical aspects of Xenakis' compositional processes.

This album is not for everyone; listeners whose musical preferences end with post-Romanticism will probably want to pass, but for anyone who loves the work of maverick modernists, it doesn't get much better than this. Naïve's sound is characteristically immaculate, present, and lively.

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