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MGB Records (Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund)

Mondrian Ensemble
Iannis XENAKIS (1922-2001)

Ikhoora (1978) [9’28].
Michel ROTH (b. 1976)

Verinnerungb (2001/2) [16’15].
Martin JAGGI (b. 1978)

Schebkac (2001) [7’29].
Giacinto SCELSI (1905-1988)

String Triod (1958) [13’58].
Dieter AMMANN (b. 1962)

Gehörte Form – Hommagese (1998) [18’46].
cMondrian Ensemble (abdeDaniela Müller, violin; adeChristian Zgraggen, viola; abdeMartin Jaggi, cello; bWalter Zoller, piano) with cDaniel Sailer (double-bass).
Rec. Radio Studio, Zürich on abNovember 28th-29th, cdDecember 21st-22nd, 2002, eDecember 14th, 1999. DDD


A most interesting disc. It is good to see the names of Xenakis and Scelsi on newly-issued discs. Their musics stand for challenge and involvement on the listeners’ part in a way that the more smoothly-edged music of our time so often does not. The harnessing of these two major names with talent from the younger generation is to be applauded. This record company (Migros for short, I’ve decided) is clearly brave; the audience for this programme is surely not over-large. I would hope that one of the services positive criticism can provide is to point readers in the direction of new and stimulating pastures. Look no further.

Iannis Xenakis was in many ways a unique figure of the twentieth-century. His compositional practices were sozzled in advanced mathematics, stochastic practices whose explication was certainly not for the feeble-hearted; or the non-mathematical for that matter. But what is really surprising is the primal force of the resulting scores. Shorn of obvious melody and containing rhythms that can one moment appear simple, the next moment dauntingly complex - pity the poor executants! - Xenakis’s music often speaks to us deep within our psyche.

The Mondrian Ensemble is fearless in the face of such a score as Ikhoor from 1978. The title refers to the fluid that flowed in the veins of the Gods. The characteristically raw energy of the opening sets the tone for the piece as a whole, although some surprisingly ‘warm’ sounding chords raise an eyebrow. Xenakis’s ear was acute and his effects could certainly make one listen anew. Try the violin slides around 5’10, so reminiscent of the ‘Clangers’ (as the other instruments join in, we get a conference of Clangers). For those readers either not old enough to remember the Clangers or from other territories, my apologies. They made scooping noises like other-worldly penny-whistles.

The Mondrian Ensemble delivers the score with huge confidence; from the accompanying pictures, it is that confidence born of youth. This is one of three trios by Xenakis (Linaia-Agon, of 1971 and Okho of 1989 are also in his catalogue – for further investigation, go to the Arditti’s excellent two-disc set issued in 2000 on Disques Montaigne MO782137).

To take the works in order of playing, Michel Roth’s verinnerung for piano trio takes its inspiration from a painting by Mondrian (‘Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue’ of 1928: The work was commissioned by the present ensemble.

Michael Kinkel’s booklet note states that: ‘The consistent elimination of direct musical gestures in favour of nuanced sound could be interpreted as a parallel to an external stylistic trait of Mondrian’s painting’ before suggesting that, ‘such comparisons do not take us very far’. No, quite. But that is not to knock the piece itself. Roth used microtonal techniques as part of his armoury. There is something of Feldman about this work in that one is kept hanging on for the next sound one hears. Certainly there is a fragile beauty about much of this work; although there are also elements of the violent – the blindly obsessional note repetitions around 12’10 almost exude panic and are definitely discomforting to listen to!

Martin Jaggi takes natural phenomena as starting points for his music; in the present instance Saharan plateaux that have networks of dry furrows. Apparently this is part of a Sahara trilogy. There is a sense of peace to contrast with the piling-up of aggregates; an agile piano part, well delivered here. Again, as in the Roth, there are obsessive repetitions, but here they are more rhythmically primal.

It is always exciting to see the music of Scelsi being made freely available. His simply titled ‘Trio à cordes’ was written in 1958 and typically for a product of this fertile mind, Scelsi goes about reinventing the string trio into a hitherto ‘unknown’ instrument. Each of the four movements unfolds (or evolves) from a single note (B flat – F sharp – B natural – C natural). The booklet notes tell of Scelsi’s overcoming of a creative crisis by repeating a single note over and over until he could hear it ‘from the inside out’. There is the hand of a Master in the way the second movement dissolves into nothing, balancing perhaps the progressive intensification of the first movement. The finale is the most overtly nocturnal movement.

Finally Dieter Ammann’s Gehörte Form – Hommages. The booklet notes link the opening to the beginning of Ligeti’s Second String Quartet (1968). Although Ammann obviously has a keen ear for sonority, the work seems over-long at 18’46. He delights in juxtapositions. The ‘arrival’ at around four minutes is noteworthy; as if in recognition of this arrival, the instruments slither away, almost guiltily! Unpredictable terrain, certainly, although it strikes the present writer as rather weak. A shame, as the rest of the disc has so much to offer.

Colin Clarke


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