Varese Orchestral Works, Vol. 1

Author: 
Arnold Whittall

Varese Orchestral Works, Vol. 1

  • Amériques
  • Offrandes
  • Hyperprism
  • Octandre
  • Arcana

Varese is a provocative composer, and there are some thought-provoking differences in the ways Kent Nagano and Pierre Boulez approach his music. In Arcana, for example, Nagano sets off at a cracking pace, relishing the score's iconoclastic flamboyance but seeking to smooth out the joins in this post-impressionist confrontation between Debussy and Stravinsky in one corner and Varese himself in the other. Boulez is less galvanic, more implacable. His is a modernist Varese: he separates out the rhythmic strata which Nagano seeks to blend, and Sony Classical's remastering of the old, dryish CBS recording serves Boulez's inexorable purpose by foreshortening perspectives and narrowing the dynamic range. The new Erato recording never for a moment suggests that the percussion is at the front of the orchestra, or that the strings are being artificially boosted in order to be heard: the extremes of loud and soft which Varese demands are alertly, even exaggeratedly provided.
The exuberance and virtuosity of Nagano and his players brings with it the risk of flashiness. There is greater weight to the volcanic final stages of Ameriques in Boulez's reading: on the other hand, Boulez's Octandre is distinctly austere—and a shade dull—alongside Nagano's finely characterized and well-shaped account. In Offrandes, however, Boulez's response to the surreal elements of text and music (aided by Rachel Yakar's dramatic singing) digs deeper than Nagano's polished interpretation, with Phyllis Bryn-Julson beautifully poised but over-refined: this is not Debussy, still less Ravel.
In the two big orchestral scores Nagano can seem hectic beside the more monumental Boulez, although some listeners may still prefer the sheer excitement and sonic brilliance of the new Erato disc. What is undeniable is that you get more music—77 minutes altogether—from Sony Classical, with both Integrales and Ionisation, though without Hyperprism. The later pieces will feature in Nagano's second volume, and the play of comparison with Boulez will continue when it appears.'

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