There are a number of "complete" renderings of Varèse on disc, largely as his overall output is so small -- only about 13 works -- and the history of complete recorded editions of his work, actually complete or not, stretches back into the 1950s. Naxos' edition, piloted by conductor Christopher Lyndon-Gee, may not represent a name with the power of Boulez or Chailly at the helm, but nevertheless there are a lot of reasons to check out Naxos' Varèse: Orchestral Works , Vol.
2, in which Lyndon-Gee leads the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Men's Chorus of Camerata Silesia, and soloists.At the outset, it is apparent this is a very good recording, demonstrating a satisfying spatial separation of very quiet and very loud elements. Amériques, heard in the first recording of the original expanded version for 155 pieces -- that conducted by Leopold Stokowski in 1927 -- is a crystal clear interpretation in some ways, a little loose in others, but not in an undesirable manner. In recordings where Varèse himself was working in a supervisory fashion, some loose ends are allowed to dangle, conversely in those made where conductors dot every "i" and cross every "t" that come off with a coldness that seems in conflict with Varèse's vision. This Amériques is white hot and captures Varèse's wry, Dadaistic sense of humor, his echoes of the jazz age and referencing to the orchestral music of Richard Strauss. Lyndon-Gee's work shows careful preparation, which is refreshing, as a fair number of conductors have approached Amériques as an afterthought. The recording could have used a little more presence in the low percussion, but it is a fair tradeoff given that every other aspect of this performance is so good. There are details from the more familiar, reduced orchestration that one misses, though certain sections are more expansive than the score most commonly recorded.Among Varèse's works, Ecuatorial is always the toughest nut to crack; this piece wears least well among his works, despite his employment of the Ondes Martenot and the odd combination of conventional instruments involved.
This performance under Lyndon-Gee represents Ecuatorial about as good as it can be, with emphasis placed on the keyboard instruments and percussion. One cannot say there will ever be a cure for the sound of the men's chorus singing on the text from the Popul Vuh; it just wasn't one of Varèse's better ideas.
Far better is Varèse's valedictory work Nocturnal, the full score of which the composer cast into the flames. He really shouldn't have done so, as what Chou Wen-Chung has raised from the sketches of Nocturnal is in keeping with Varèse's work going back to at least Offrandes, if not the early song Un grand sommeil noir, as Lyndon-Gee postulates in his notes. Here, the low percussion sounds exceptionally great, and so does soprano Elizabeth Watts in the torturously difficult soprano solo part.The oddments gathered after Varèse's death -- the hilarious Dance for Burgess, which sounds like Leonard Bernstein having a nightmare about Varèse, and Tuning Up, which recycles material from Amériques and collages it onto the sound of standard orchestral tuning -- play winningly. These long suppressed pieces, not heard until the 1990s, provide that Varèse had a sense of humor, something not readily apparent in his other work, and indeed, not an aspect of his output that Varèse necessarily wanted the public to see.
The most familiar pieces in the program -- Density 21.5 and Ionisation -- are actually the weakest links on Naxos' Varèse: Orchestral Works Vol.
2. Density 21.5 is well played by Maria Grochowska, but recorded very quietly; Ionisation is played with precision, but not much power. It isn't as though these pieces cannot be enjoyed elsewhere, and bottom line the committed follower of Varèse will not want to miss the new edition of Amériques and will find most of the rest delightful.While Lyndon-Gee's notes are quite detailed and engaging, though they could have used closer editing; the headnote tells us that the version of Nocturnal recorded here is Chou Wen-Chung's 1969 edition of the work, but Lyndon-Gee refers to Chung's 1980 version in the body of the text, leading one to believe that is the one in use. So which one is it? In addition, Lyndon-Gee draws some historical inferences in his text that are debatable, such as his insight into Varèse's interest in Anäis Nin, which would be hard to support based on documentation so far published. Describing Antonin Artaud as a homosexual is simplifying matters a bit and does not take into account Artaud's long and complex relationship with actress Genica Athanasiou. Certainly, Varèse would have had more interest in Artaud's constant bickering with God and his nearly systematic revolt against reality than any alleged sexual orientation. However, one wants to forgive Lyndon-Gee for stepping so far out on the ledge, as his interpretations of Varèse possess a key component -- passion -- lacking from so many Varèse interpretations made in the digital era. In this respect, Naxos' Varèse: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2, is easily recommendable and provides a healthy antidote to most interpretations of Varèse's work that are out there.
|Amériques, for orchestra||Christopher Lyndon-Gee||23:58|
|Ecuatorial, for bass, chorus, brass, piano, organ, 2 ondes martenots & percussion||Christopher Lyndon-Gee||10:25|
|Nocturnal, for soprano, chorus of basses & chamber orchestra (edited by Chou Wen-Chung)||Christopher Lyndon-Gee||9:24|
|Dance for Burgess, for orchestra (draft, completed by Chou Wen-Chung)||Christopher Lyndon-Gee||1:39|
|Tuning Up, for orchestra (draft, realized by Chou Wen-Chung)||Christopher Lyndon-Gee||4:52|
|Hyperprisme, for winds and percussion||Christopher Lyndon-Gee||3:48|
|Un grand sommeil noir, song for voice & piano||Christopher Lyndon-Gee||2:59|
|Density 21.5, for flute solo||Christopher Lyndon-Gee||4:40|
|Ionisation, for 13 percussionists||Christopher Lyndon-Gee||5:21|