Andriessen: Anaïs nin; De Staat

COMPOSERS: Andriessen
LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Andriessen
WORKS: Anaïs nin; De Staat
PERFORMER: Cristina Zavalloni (soprano); London Sinfonietta; Synergy Vocals; Sound Intermedia/David Atherton
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 273

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That tough-minded minimalist Louis Andriessen here ventures into more personal territory, taking on the agonised memoirs of Spanish writer Anaïs Nin. These reveal her torrid affairs with four men: Antoine Artaud, Henry Miller, René Allendy and her father, the Spanish composer Joaquín Nin, with whom she had an incestuous relationship.

Andriessen sets excerpts for Italian soprano Christina Zavelloni and chamber ensemble in a strangely ambiguous style. It veers between astringency, with touches of Stravinsky, and a softer idiom that strives to be unsentimental but often ends up sounding dry. Zavelloni’s fragile tone captures the loneliness and boredom of Nin, always waiting for the arrival of the next man to stave off her inner emptiness. But you can feel the soprano’s discomfort with Andriessen’s jerky rhythms and she struggles with the English text. A performance that relished Andriessen’s sardonic idiom might have lifted the music off the page, but this one feels muted, as though its performers are unconvinced.

It’s a relief to turn to the blazing conviction of De Staat, Andriessen’s setting of Plato’s fiercely moralistic thoughts on music. The players finally come alive, hurling out Andriessen’s jagged, insistent lines with unflagging energy. But they’re somewhat let down by the recording, which makes the woodwind players seem distant and bloodless.

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Ivan Hewett