Xenakis: À Colone; Nuits; Serment; Knephas; Medea

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: À Colone; Nuits; Serment; Knephas; Medea
PERFORMER: New London Chamber Choir, Critical Band/James Wood
For all the intellect and calculation involved in its composition, the principal impression left by the music of Iannis Xenakis is of its intense physicality. This is faithfully reproduced on this disc, from the first blast of brass in À Colone (1977) to the last wails, growls and thumps of the instrumental quintet in Medea (1967). These two works combine instruments with male and female choruses respectively, chanting classical texts by Sophocles and Seneca. Between them are three pieces for unaccompanied mixed voices, mostly sung to isolated sounds rather than discernible texts: the classic Nuits (1968), Serment (1981) and Knephas (1990). The last of these was written specially for Wood’s New London Chamber Choir: a remarkable tribute to a semi-professional chorus, but one fully justified by these astonishing performances. Xenakis’s dense textures, huge leaps and swoops, and unconventional effects are projected with confidence; and the singers’ vibrato-less delivery brings out all the nuances of his quarter-tone writing. With equally expert and committed instrumental playing by Critical Band, vivid sound, and helpful notes, this is a disc which recommends itself to those already interested in Xenakis’s music, and for others would make an excellent introduction to his uniquely pungent sound-world. Anthony Burton