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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Edgar VARÈSE (1883-1965)
Amériques
(revised version 1927)
Arcana
Déserts
Ionisation

Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Pierre Boulez
Recording: 12/1995 (Amériques & Ionisation), 12/1996 (Arcana & Déserts); Chicago, Orchestra Hall
DG 471 137-2
[68:21]
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Amériques (1921) was the first work composed in the USA by Edgar Varèse. Blazingly original, it draws unashamedly upon Stravinsky's Sacre but is even more advanced in dissonance, with a huge percussion section and the large orchestra including 29 brass in the first version. Arcana (1927) is a music of sound, which determines structure through repetition and contrasts of rhythm and timbre, developing without any pre-imposed plan. Ionisation (1931) is for percussion (13 players) alone, innovative and unprecedented at the time. Deserts ((1954) incorporated optional parts on tape, but Boulez here (and also in his earlier recording) omits these sections. I support that decision; the tape recordings can sound dated, that medium having moved on so far in half a century, but the orchestral score works well, with its cumulative power evolving over 17 mins in a way which is totally compelling.

If you don't have Varèse in your collection, this is an excellent CD with which to begin. Boulez and the Chicago players give it everything and the mid-1990s recordings have clarity and sonic brilliance. But give your ears a break and don't play the CD straight through.


Peter Grahame Woolf

 

See also review by Marc Bridle

There is another recent Varese collection on Naxos



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