Varèse Orchestral Works

Two welcome new surveys raise the profile of a modern master without displacing Chailly’s

Author: 
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Varèse Orchestral Works

  • Amériques
  • Arcana
  • Déserts, Episode I
  • Déserts, Episode II
  • Déserts, Episode III
  • Déserts, Episode IV
  • Ionisation

Riccardo Chailly’s Varèse edition set new standards for the performance of this singular composer. These new discs survey most of his quantitively slender output. Pierre Boulez has long championed the composer‚ and his 1970s New York accounts were‚ in their day‚ unsurpassed for clarity and impact. The Chicago remakes are not all gain. The exhilarating rhythmic cross­play of Ionisation feels subdued‚ until the tuned percussion emerges with its admonishing gesture. Arcana lacks impetus in its scherzo­like section‚ the hectic montage of sonic images almost too well articulated‚ though the earlier processional phase has an overwhelming monumentality. Christopher Lyndon­Gee on Naxos is particularly impressive in the final eruption and fade‚ graphically rendered‚ and his faster tempos give the piece greater overall coherence. Yet the Polish orchestra is not in the Chicago class‚ and a sense of struggling to keep on top of the music is compounded by the dry recording‚ with dynamics confined to the middle of the sound spectrum.
The Naxos disc is worth acquiring for Lyndon­Gee’s pungent account of Intégrales‚ a vivid if overwrought Octandre‚ and a suspenseful OffrandesÊ–ÊMaryse Castets slightly too forward in the aural frameÊ–Êwhich brings out harmonic succulence shortly to vanish from Varèse’s writing. Unlike Boulez‚ he presents Déserts with the electronic interpolations‚ though these sound seedy in comparison with the remastering afforded Chailly (was an earlier version of the tape used?)‚ and Boulez is far more successful in reaching the pathos and pain of this essentially tragic work. Its conceptual opposite in all respects‚ Amériques is magisterially done: from the initial Debussy­like musing‚ through passages of whole­tone sensuousness and Stravinskyan incisiveness‚ to the powerful and truly Varèsian rhetoric of the close‚ this is Boulez at his interpretative best. Valuable as Chailly’s account of the original version is‚ this new account reaffirms the greater formal clarity and emotional concentration of the revision.
Summing up‚ Chailly’s set is a central recommendation‚ with still the best modern account of Arcana. Lyndon­Gee shows a commendable grip on this music‚ though Nagano’s repackaged discs are worth the extra fiver‚ while Boulez is mandatory for Amériques and (the non­electronic) Déserts. At a time when a new generation is discovering his music‚ excited by its uninhibited approach to sound‚ Varese’s stature as composer and thinker may yet reach new heights.

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