Monday, 30 October 2017

Les Percussions De Strasbourg (2CD compi 1993, rec. 1967-71 + 1992)

Founded in 1962 as the first ensemble dedicated to contemporary percussion music, Les Percussions De Strasbourg's modern-day lineup is still going strong.  This 2-CD set was released to mark the ensemble's 30th anniversary, with the first disc being freshly recorded and the second featuring recordings by the original lineup from 1967, 1970 and 1971.  The common thread between almost the works on these discs is that LPDS regularly sought commissions for new material from contemporary composers, and these are just a small sample of the unique results of material written specifically with the ensemble in mind.
Disc 1, recorded in December 1992 by the lineup pictured above, starts with Hiérophonie V by Yoshihisa Taïra, a Japanese composer who settled in France.  Punctuated with martial shouts from the performers, it's a striking and powerful piece interspersed with some quiet passages.  Next up is a half-hour suite, Le Livre des Claviers, by Philippe Manoury, with mostly mellower tones from the vibes and marimbas.  François-Bernard Mâche's Khnoum is fairly interesting, but the disc ends on a high note with Sombre journée by a composer posted here not long ago, Hugues Dufourt.  The introductory rolls gather steam into a piece of great momentum, before an eerie atmospheric end.
Disc 2, as noted above, collects vintage recordings, and starts with the oldest piece, which actually predates the formation of LPDS by some three decades, but which was startling in its day and still sounded fresh - Edgard Varese's legendary Ionisation.  Hailed by Frank Zappa as the spark that inspired him to pursue a career in music, this siren-pierced cityscape owed as much to the noisemaking Futurists as it did to its structural inspiration of molecular ionization.

LPDS included Ionisation on their 1970 album 'Americana', one of several they recorded for the Prospective 21e Siècle series released by the Philips label, with their striking reflective covers created on engraved aluminium foil.  The remainder of the CD here gives us two of these albums in full, the first of which paired Maurice Ohana's Quatre études chorégraphiques with Miloslav Kabeláč's 8 Inventions.  Both suites are highly listenable and almost deceptively straightforward - just as well, as you need to brace yourself for what's to come next.  Yep, it's SGTG favourite Iannis Xenakis. 

Xenakis' 1969 work Persephassa, like Persepolis, was written for the Iranian Shiraz Arts Festival, and was performed there by LPDS in scorching desert heat.  As with many Xenakis works where the performers were scattered throughout the audience, you can only get a tiny approximation of Persephassa's spatial majesty on a stereo recording, but the insane intensity of the work is still enough to require a bit of a lie down afterwards to recover.  Unmissable stuff to cap off a great and wide-ranging compilation.

Disc 1 mega / Disc 1 zippy
Disc 2 mega / Disc 2 zippy

See also: Pléiades/Psappha by Xenakis (not performed by LPDS) 

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