PERFORMER: Alpha Centauri Ensemble/Roger Woodward
CATALOGUE NO: KTC 1075 Reissue (1988)
Xenakis’s Kraanerg is something of a paradox: a huge, single-movement edifice which is one of the composer’s most important yet least known works; a piece whose modest orchestral forces – just 23 instruments plus tape – combine to conjure sounds and textures which are often overwhelmingly rich and full; a confrontation between live performers and electronics whose power balance is constantly shifting, only to be resolved in a grand final summation when the two worlds triumphantly unite. It’s unavoidably demanding to listen to, but the wide-ranging material – from pulsating clusters and dense textures to the transparency of seemingly tonally derived chords – and the invention apparent in all its musical gestures never fail to enthrall. There’s even a certain dry wit in abrupt cuts from electronic clouds to scampering strings, or when the two contrasting sound-worlds try to imitate each other.
The disc is a brave undertaking by Roger Woodward’s Alpha Centauri Ensemble, and one which succeeds magnificently: this is a finely judged performance, excellently captured by the recording which gives a clear sense of musical perspective and allows all the myriad detail to be heard. There’s even an intriguing booklet essay by Milan Kundera which explains Xenakis’s ‘consoling objectivity in which the aggressiveness of a soul bent on self-expression has no place’. Thought-provoking stuff. David Kettle