Tony Arnold / International Contemporary Ensemble / Red Fish Blue Fish / Steven Schick / Benny Sluchin

Xenakis: Ensemble Music 3

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Mode's third installment of Iannis Xenakis' music for ensembles offers a variety of combinations, keeping with the sui generis nature of his compositions. This collection features the International Contemporary Ensemble performing five of the works -- Palimpsest, Échange, Akanthos, Thalleïn, and O-Mega -- and they are joined by avant-garde group red fish blue fish, which performs Zythos. These compositions date from 1977 to 1997, a period dominated by Xenakis' work with computers and electronic music, though he never lost his connection to live performance and regularly faced the challenges of writing for virtuoso musicians. Except for Thalleïn, which requires the ensemble to play together more or less as a unit, the other selections have prominent solo parts, so there are focal points for the ear, even in the densest textures. For example, pianist Cory Smythe has a central role in Palimpsest, and the other instruments derive their activity from the piano's material. In Échange, bass-clarinetist Joshua Rubin is prominently placed before the ensemble, which plays clusters in a block-like accompaniment. Perhaps the most striking contrasts of sonority are in Akanthos, where soprano Tony Arnold sings a wordless line above disjointed gestures from the ensemble, and trombonist Benny Sluchin is set in conflict against the six marimbas in Zythos. O-Mega, Xenakis' last composition, features percussionist Steven Schick in dialog with the chamber orchestra, and a kind of balance is achieved between the solo part's independence and the material it shares with the group. These works may not be a summation of Xenakis' final years, but this album provides clear insights in some of his main ideas and methods.

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