- Am?riques, for orchestra
- Arcana, for orchestra
- D?serts for brass, percussion, piano, & tape
- Ionisation, for 13 percussionists
When Edgard Varèse arrived in New York in 1915, he paid an homage of sorts to his new home with his first published composition, Amériques, an abstract work that the composer deemed "symbolic of discoveries -- new worlds on earth, in the sky, or in the minds of men." Indeed, listening to the enormous orchestra thrash and convulse its way through it, you get a striking sense of a composer breaking away from his influences -- Stravinsky, Debussy, a touch of Schoenberg -- and leaping into a brave new world where music obeys no prior rules. Perhaps because of this freedom, Varèse's work still has the power to astonish in a way that the music of his modernist contemporaries no longer does. Pierre Boulez has long placed Varèse among the 20th century's most important musical revolutionaries, and this recording of four of the composer's key works is a sonic marvel; the Chicago Symphony's brass and percussion, in particular, show their mettle in splendidly clangorous performances. In addition to Amériques, Boulez conducts Arcana, which despite its title is actually one of Varèse's most approachable pieces -- rising from strident marches and other propulsive figures to a quietly mysterious close. Ionisation, for 13 percussionists, is equal parts intricate rhythmic interplay and brute force. Déserts, which followed the other works by two decades, is performed here in its alternate version without the experimental electronic interludes the composer prepared. What remains, for winds and percussion, is starker and less aggressive than the earlier pieces, but there is no question of Varèse mellowing with age -- especially with Boulez's close attention to sonority and balance. It is as evocative and enigmatic as anything the maverick modernist ever composed.