The first thing to say is that Cécile Daroux, a supporter
and commissioner of Xenakis works, died in 2011, aged just 42.
This was before the recording was completed so as Christophe
Sirodeau writes as a preface to the notes, “May this recording
be considered a moving, bereaved homage from all those who will
continue to love and admire her beyond time”. I suppose
that similar comments could be made the remarkable Iannis Xenakis,
one of the most incredible polymaths of the last century and
a totally original musician and composer.
The first work Zyia - an archaic word meaning
‘couple’ - quite surprised me as I realised that
until that moment I had only heard the more untamed and later
Xenakis. The coupling alluded to here may be the two instruments
against the voice. I found it beautiful, colourful and exotic.
It uses a sort of recurring eastern European scale. Dating from
1952 it may then have appeared rather ‘difficult’;
now it seems to fall into a more general European system of
musical thought. The text is by Xenakis himself and is a call
to youth to rise and enjoy the spring. Here the spring represents
a new life, away from the dictatorship that had affected Greece
just after the war. This was the same war in which the composer
himself had been much injured both psychologically and physically
when the left-wing uprising was brutally suppressed. Yet the
work is not always impassioned in an emotional way but stands
back and observes its surroundings. Especially memorable is
its wild Greek dance in the central section. This is exciting
and there’s marvellous demanding work for Daroux’s
flute. This is a piece to which I will often return.
There then follows a piece from the preceding year. One can
judge easily what a vast jump it was from the Six Chansons
Grècques to Zyia. These aphoristic piano
miniatures are what the booklet notes curiously describes as
‘demotic rural-style folksongs’. They have harmonic
variety but are generally diatonic. The last however comes as
a bit of a shock: it is called Soustra and is a mad dance,
It’s the sort of thing Skalkottas might have written had
he have lived longer than his measly and tragic 45 years. These
pieces were composed only a couple of years after his death
but it’s odd that they possess French titles such as the
beautifully nostalgic ‘Aujourd’hui le ciel est noir’.
Psapphais the Greek for the poetess Sappho
(seventh century BC) and is scored for a variety of metallic
and wooden, non-pitched percussion instruments. These are here
presented in an successful and evocative electro-acoustic version
sanctioned by the composer by Daniel Ciampolini himself. To
quote Carol Ann Duffy in the recent Penguin translation of Sappho
“In Sappho we often find erotic emotion expressed in stylised
and ritualised ways”. This piece is like a ritual, in
fact there’s nothing here I feel which an ancient Greek
would not have comprehended. It is purely rhythm, differing
tempi, colours and patterns. Indeed, even in the original, Sapphic
poetic rhythms are, I believe, significantly variable and always
relevant to the subject matter. I like the quote in the booklet,
which sums up what Xenakis was probably attempting “beauty
cleansed of an effective dirt, lacking in sentimental barbarism”.
Its dancing pulses are a joy and a true connection with ancient
Sirodeau says of Persephassa that the music seems
to come, not from ancient Greek cultures this time, but “from
before the creation of the world” and is described as
a ‘frieze’. Persephone is nature’s goddess
of the renewal of springtime and there is much that is rudimentary
and burgeoning about this extraordinary piece. Originally performed
by the six players ‘Le Percussions de Strasbourg’
and premiered in Iran. Ciampolini has created a version for
himself only to play by pre-recording five tracks then adding
himself live. At almost thirty minutes it seems quite remarkable
both musically and technically. When one considers the many
complex rhythms and the marvellous and gradual accelerando in
the final five minutes the achievement is even more remarkable.
Falling into, five sections (unfortunately, although there are
silences, they not separately tracked) the fourth has the startling
noises of primitive mouth sirens along with the metallic, skin
and sometimes wooden instruments. The idea of small metal tubing
comes from the simandres of Greek Orthodox churches. This version
has received only one performance and that in 2003, according
to Ciampolini’s own notes on these percussion pieces.
I must add that although I have read the rest of Sirodeau’s
notes on this piece I just don’t understand them; never
As I imply, the booklet essay has been oddly translated and
some passages I have re-read several times and still don’t
grasp. The general gist though is often thought-provoking as
is the entire disc of music by this most innovative of minds.
Search it out.