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Xenakis: Works With Piano / Takahashi

Xenakis,Iannis
Release Date: 08/03/2010 
Label:  Mode   Catalog #: 217  
Composer:  Iannis Xenakis
Performer:  Aki TakahashiRohan de Saram
Conductor:  Stephen Drury
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Callithumpian ConsortJACK Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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DVD:  $28.49
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Works with Piano
Aki Takahashi, piano

Eonta (1963) for piano, 2 trumpets & 3 trombones (22:20)

Morsima/Amorsima (1962) for piano, violin, cello & contrabass (10:55) with the Callithumpian Consort, Stephen Drury, conductor

Akea (1986) for piano & string quartet (13:53) with the JACK Quartet

Paille in the Wind (1992) for piano & cello (5:09) with Rohan de Saram. Only available recording

Pianist Aki Takahashi follows up her acclaimed first disc of Xenakis piano works (which won a “Diapason d’or” in France, mode 80) with this second volume, of works for piano with instruments.

She is joined by an all-star cast of players: Rohan de Saram
Read more (formerly of the Arditti Quartet), The JACK Quartet, and the Callithumpian Consort conducted by Stephen Drury.

All works are underrepresented in current recordings or difficult to find at all.

The legendary EONTA — a blistering work with one of the most difficult piano parts ever written — receives its first new recording in over 10 years. The brass writing specifies spatialized movement for the brass players — including playing directly into the piano for its resonance — both dramatic to see and hear, captured in surround sound.

AKEA (1986), written for Claude Helffer and the Arditti Quartet, is not a typical addition to the romantic tradition of the piano quintet. It signaled the beginning of a more inward, reflective phase of Xenakis’ output.

MORISIMA/AMORSIMA was composed with the aid of a computer in 1962. This is the only readily available recording.

PAILLE IN THE WIND (1992) for piano & cello is performed with Rohan de Saram. This is the only available recording.

The DVD also contains an option for high-definition 96khz/24-bit stereo audio.

Review of CD Version: 3444400.az_XENAKIS_Eonta_1_Morsima.html

XENAKIS Eonta 1; Morsima-Amorsima 1; Akea 2; Paille in the Wind 3 Aki Takahashi (pn); 1 Stephen Drury, cond; 1 Callithumpian Consort; 2 JACK Quartet; 3 Rohan de Saram (vc) MODE 217 (56:00)


As much mathematics as music, the work of Greek composer, architect, engineer, and philosopher Iannis Xenakis is simply not generally considered user-friendly. Rigorous in its logic and invention, it is rarely, as a body, conventionally beautiful, though the otherworldliness of many works creates a beauty of its own. There are melodic lines, in the later works at least, but not in the conventional sense, and not developed in traditional ways. In the early works, there are often only patterns and colors of sound, and the music can make its points in sonorities that border on the unpleasant. Both types are represented in the 11th (!) volume of the ongoing Xenakis series produced by Mode records, this one dedicated to the chamber works with piano. The percussiveness of the piano and the restricted palette of the small ensembles create a sound world even starker than the orchestral works, but the concentration is powerful and the sheer inventiveness seductive. The pianist is Aki Takahashi, the daughter of the legendary Yuji Takahashi, for whom Eonta was written. Her earlier solo piano recording in the series (Mode 80) has already established her considerable skills in this challenging repertoire. Here she is joined by colleagues with similarly impressive credentials.


All but one of these works have been recorded before. Eonta (Being) was recorded by Yuji Takahashi and Konstantin Simonovich in 1965, two years after its completion. That pioneering recording, still available on Chant de Monde 278368 ( Fanfare 26: 2), sets the bar very high for successors. Simonovich conducts with clarity, and finds a remarkable subtlety and variety in the score. The conductor’s musicality is more than matched by the elder Takahashi. Only the raw and unruly French brass quintet keeps this from being ideal. The brass players of the Callithumpian Consort, a Boston-based new music group, are in every way preferable. Aki Takahashi does not quite manage the range of touch and phrasing her father displays in this incredibly challenging part, nor is conductor Stephen Drury quite as imaginative. While the Mode CD (it is also available in surround DVD) has a fuller, more immediate sound, the composer-directed ensemble movement about the stage is not as clearly defined as in the older recording. Timbral effects, like the ringing harmonics created when the brass play into the undamped piano, and the shifts between pedaled and unpedaled piano are more clearly heard on the Mode CD. This new release is certainly more engaging than the earlier live Mode recording (53) with Justin Rubin and the ST-X Ensemble, and better recorded.


Morsima-Amorsima (Fate-Not of Fate), one of six works written between 1956 and 1962 with ST, Xenakis’s first stochastic (chance) process computer program, explores a different set of sonorities. These pieces, based on FORTRAN programs created by the composer, were the culmination of experiments in creating music through random calculation using complex mathematical functions. (How much of the music is computer generated and how much Xenakis’s manipulation after the program was run is still a matter of debate.) Subjectively, the piano provides aural pins of sound upon which the glissandos and sustained pitches of the violin, cello, and double bass are strung. It is the sonic equivalent of a light show. As such, the Takahashi/Callithumpian Consort performance is nearly ideal, eschewing the more subjectively interpreted approach of Simonovich in the recently rereleased 1967 EMI recording (87674). Not that I don’t like the subjectivity—I actually do—but I suspect it was not the composer’s intent, and in any case the Callithumpian soloists are more accurate in important matters of intonation.


Akea (Cure) is a much later work (1986), a string quintet, in which Xenakis experiments with aperiodic scales: in this case, eight-pitch scales in which there is no sense of return to a tonic. Here they create a strong feeling of separateness, so even when playing together, the piano and string quartet seem to exist in a different harmonic world. It is a little like bitonality, without the parallelism that the diatonic scale provides. More important to the listener, this is highly expressive music, leaving well behind the relatively cold cerebral world of the probabilistic compositions. The 1991 Arditti String Quartet recording has had the field to itself in this work until now. It is part of a superb two-disc set, now on Naïve (80692), which Robert Carl welcomed warmly and personally in Fanfare 33:5. As fine as the New York-based JACK Quartet is in this new recording (and it is excellent), it cannot surpass the Arditti, which plays this difficult music with the emotional commitment that most quartets would apply to Beethoven. Claude Hellfer on the earlier issue is similarly expressive, making more of Xenakis’s nod to romanticism (only in the most relative sense) than the technically fine but sterner Takahashi.


Finally, Paille (Straw) in the Wind for cello and piano is the one premiere recording on this release. Completed in 1992, the four-minute work takes the expressiveness even further, giving to the cellist a singing line of great emotional depth. The pianist is asked to play densely dissonant chords, linear descendants of the tonal clouds of earlier compositions, in all ranges of the piano. Yet even played as emphatically as Takahashi does here (and without a score to see markings, I find myself wondering if they could not be less substantial and make a greater effect) there is a sort of serenity to the work that is unusual for this composer. Short, and emotionally concentrated, this is a moving coda to—preferences aside—an excellent program.


FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

1. Eonta by Iannis Xenakis
Performer:  Aki Takahashi (Piano)
Conductor:  Stephen Drury
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Callithumpian Consort
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1963-1964; Paris, France 
2. Morsima-Amorsima by Iannis Xenakis
Performer:  Aki Takahashi (Piano)
Conductor:  Stephen Drury
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Callithumpian Consort
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956-1962; Paris, France 
3. Akea by Iannis Xenakis
Performer:  Aki Takahashi (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  JACK Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1986; Paris, France 
4. Paille in the wind, for cello & piano by Iannis Xenakis
Performer:  Aki Takahashi (Piano), Rohan de Saram (Cello)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1992 

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