> Duo Hyksos: Music for Flute and Percussion [ET]: Classical Reviews- July 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Music for Flute and Percussion
Petros KORELIS (1955) - Cronos II [10’24]
Jacques DI TUCCI (1958) - Etude pour Ramypide [4’23]
Roger LERSY (1920) - A la mémoire de Chagall [4’23]
Francois ROSSE (1945) - …fur ein Sandkornchen von Osten…[13’14]
Alain FERON [1954) - Ta’wil [5’09]
Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988) - Hyksos [9’49]
Yoshihisa TAIRA (1938) - Maya [4’45]
Jean-Yves NAVINER [1966] - D’une pluie, la couleur [8’47]
Duo Hyksos: (Henri Tournier: Flute; Michel Castaud: Percussion)
Rec France 1995? DDD
TIMPANI 1C1032 [59’25]
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The first thing one must say about this music is that the Surgeon-General ought to issue a warning on the cover of this CD to those listeners for whom atonality and modern aesthetics cause grave illness. Then the Surgeon-General ought to issue a second warning on the cover of this CD for those listeners who become ill at the mere whiff of pretension. As a listener, I am certainly not averse to great modern music, but the music on this CD is by no means great and much of it cannot be described as even good.

What we have is a duo of French flautist, Henri Tournier, and percussionist, Michel Gastaud. named Duo Hyksos, after the piece by Scelsi that is on this album, they seem to be modern music specialists. Indeed, their performances are formidable, and they seem able to attack even the most difficult of tricks hurled at them by the composers. One cannot fault their performances on the CD very much as they are nuanced, technically secure, and probably almost all done with in consultation with the composers. The CD jacket tells us that three of the pieces on this CD are receiving their first performances.

The fault lies with the music. Much of it is pretentious, asking us to find meaning in music where there is none. Each of the composers gives a quote either about the music they wrote or about the music itself (except for Scelsi who passed away seven years before the album was made). Most of the quotes are laughably pompous, some egregiously so. None of these composers will be mistaken for the modern masters, but there is a certain entertaining camp value in some of the pieces. I found myself enjoying some of the music for all the wrong reasons.

The first piece is Cronos II by composer named Petros Korelis. The composer gives a rather pretentious extra-musical explanation of his work. In his explanation he writes "…(music is) born out of original chaos, from the sound continuum, in a word, in a word from the nothingness which we call time." The work is certainly not program music, but it is evocative poetically. In spite of all its pretension, one does hear genuine poetic overtones. The dominant mood however is mystic, as if the composer is trying to describe a world beyond human comprehension. Does he succeed? Partially. The pretension begins where the composer’s gifts fail him, and if it was his objective to compose a mystical chaos, then he has succeeded completely. However, another redeeming quality of the piece is that the composer does not seem to take his grandiose themes completely seriously and there are a few moments of wit as well.

The second is a marimba piece by Jacques Di Tucci called, Study for Ramypide. The piece is a small two minute trifle that is certainly more digestible than the preceding work. It reminded me of the minimalists in its refusal to give the soloist anything other than straight eighth-notes (semi-quavers) to play with hardly any rests, its accents on weak beats, and its complete refusal to leave the tonal framework. The piece is too short to repeat any of its material.

The third piece was written expressly for the duo, entitled In Memory of Chagall, by Roger Lersy. It is a charming miniature, and while it does not quite evoke as great a spell as Chagall‘s greatest paintings, it does possess a certain charm that evokes the world of Chagall’s paintings.

The next is another premiere for the duo. Though the title is pretentious, …fur ein Sandkornchen von Osten…, the jacket contains perhaps the most pretentious explanation I have ever seen to explain a piece of music, even by the standards of 70s art-rock bands such as Yes and Spock’s Beard. Here is just one example: "…It is the fleshy soul of sweat and infinity. It is that tiny germ sucked into that turbulent comet, savouring Jupiterian bath…" Believe me, the entire quote is exactly like this. It is also the most ambitious piece of music on this album, and at times the most accomplished and gripping. The instrumentation calls for a gigantic array of percussion. Much of this 13 minute piece achieves a level of sustained intensity through modal harmonies and an unusual array of sounds both on the flute and in the percussion, Potentially this is the stuff of which truly great music is made. What a tragedy then that the music should, towards the end, lapse again and again into the type of shenanigans one would expect to find in a P.D.Q. Bach spoof. How could the final few minutes, including a barely audible ending, be so lacking in inspiration after what has come before it. Once again a composer’s pretensions get the better of him and cloud his judgement. He expects everything he does to be taken seriously, no matter how egregious (or amusing) his lapse in taste. One does have to admire the sheer chutzpah of Mr. Rosse. He has created a piece that is at times quite an achievement. How about a revision?

Up next is a piece called Ta’wil, for 5 timpani by Alain Feron. This piece is proof that no matter how ear-shattering a piece of music (or for that matter a movie), if it is lacking in purpose or direction, it will be excruciatingly boring. The timpani bangs out various simple rhythmic figures; consonant intervals without any rhyme or reason to these ears. Once again, the notes are excruciatingly pretentious. According to the notes, ""Ta ‘wil" means to return to the source, that is to move from appearances to reality, from the form to the essence." Many great men have expounded this way of life in one aspect or another, be they spiritual leaders such as the Buddha, Western philosophers like Kant or Plato, or the artist Mondrian. But for the composer to have the arrogance to equate this piece with the work of such great men is absolutely outrageous.

Next is a piece called Maya by Yoshihisa Taira. The shock of hearing a verbal grunt even before a single note is sounded makes one expect the possibility of something truly musically interesting. I cannot say that this expectation is entirely fulfilled but one does sense an exuberance in the material. The composer may not be saying anything in particular, but at least he’s having a good time. His music is very "naturalistic" sounding, and is quoted as saying some new age junk "…for me music is perhaps the intuitive inner song of a force that makes me be!" Composers who make statements like that don’t write great music, but their music is certainly capable of having an intrinsic camp value, which is certainly what we have here.

If the camp value on the previous selection was high, then it is stratospheric in "The Colour of Rain" by Jean-Yves Naviner. This is a musical representation of rain through an assortment of percussion instruments, with what amounts to a flute accompaniment. The composer seems to have written a short poem to go along with the music. The poem rants and raves like a high-school student convinced he will be the next Walt Whitman.

At least some of us have heard of Scelsi. Hyxos is by far the best sustained music on the album. This tells the story of "Hyksos, people of Asia who invaded Egypt around 1800 B.C., [it will] evoke the shock of the encounter between cultures." Indeed, Scelsi is the only composer on this release who seems to be able to juxtapose material with assurance and good judgement. One can, in this music, palpably hear a clash between a stoic Egyptian culture of the desert and a more vivacious Occidental culture. While the piece lacks the shocking intensity of …fur ein Sandkornchen von Osten…, the intensity it does have is far better sustained. The piece is rather more introspective, full of many "zen-pianissimos" and pauses.

In the defense of Duo Hyksos, I have no doubt that it is very difficult to come by contemporary duos for flute and percussion, (or for that matter, duos from any time period) but performers who execute on this level deserve better than they are receiving in this recording.

While it has its moments (in Scelsi, Lersy, di Tucci, Korelis) this is, at best, a party record, and even then partially so your friends can read the liner notes.

Evan Tucker

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