Varèse: Complete works

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WORKS: Complete works
PERFORMER: Asko Ensemble, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 460 208-2


With his 1994 recording of Arcana, Chailly established his credentials as a doughty champion of Varèse. He now emerges as the foremost interpreter with this ‘complete works’, bringing together that performance with brand new ones of the rest of his output. It lacks Étude pour espace, unheard since 1947, and the electronic film score, Verges, but it’s still the ‘most complete’ ever. Not only has it the one survivor of Varèse’s lost pre-1919 output, the beautiful Verlaine song ‘Un grand sommeil noir’ (with piano as published, and in a lush new orchestration by Antony Beaumont), but also Dance for Burgess (a sort of Cubist can-can, improbably written for a New York musical) and the previously unknown Tuning Up, an ebullient jeu d’esprit sketched for a film about Carnegie Hall. These two items have been edited for performance by Varèse’s erstwhile pupil and collaborator Chou Wen-Chung. The tape pieces have been cleaned up and remastered. As for the well-known scores, one seems to hear them for the first time in their full grandeur and myriad sonic detail, properly played and balanced and with an impact not far short of a fission bomb. The results are magnificent, masterly throughout: the late Nocturnal, for example, has never sounded so profound and convincing. In the case of Amériques we are hearing the music for the first time – in this form: Wen-Chung has re-edited Varèse’s original score to reveal an even larger orchestra, even more unusual percussion, and a highly Debussian central episode that was later removed. In Decca’s vibrant sound, Amériques becomes even more the sonic spectacular of the century. Cavils? I prefer Ecuatorial with massed voices, not one, and Beaumont’s orchestration of the early song obscures its grim austerity – but is otherwise irresistible. The most important release of 1998.


Calum MacDonald