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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Edgar Varèse - "Offrandes/Integrales/Octandre/Ecuatorial" LP, Album, U.S., 1972 (Nonesuch)


Edgard Varèse may be the first classical composer that I heard.  Which makes me sound very sophisticated, but it was all due to my parents having his music played in the household hi-fi set.  It's hard music to ignore even for a small child who was in tuned to the Mickey Mouse theme.  As an adult, I started to buy Varèse's music through various used record stores, and now I have at least five albums by him.  He didn't produce that much music in his lifetime.  In that sense, he reminds me of Thelonious Monk, in that he composed little, but every note of music he made/wrote became essential listening experience. 

This album consists of four compositions, and all are performed by The Contemporary Chamber Ensemble with Arthur Weisberg conducting the Avant-orchestra.   It's a fantastic album that focuses on the music he wrote mostly in the 1920s.   One thinks what kind of audience was into this type of noisy and intense music?    There are traces of exotica perhaps due to the heavy percussion, but it's music that is energetic and muscular.  There are no traces of a feminine presence within its music.  Well, there is Jan DeGaetani singing mezzo-soprano, but the overall effect is aggressive and forward orchestration.  

My favorite piece on the album is "Ecuatorial" and that is due to the surprising instruments that come up out of the arrangement.  A powerful organ meets Thomas Paul's bass singing mixed with a series of percussion instruments.  Also, there are two Ondes Martenot (invented in 1928), which is an early electronic keyboard that sounds very much like a theremin. The other thing that is a real plus for me is using the poetry of Vincente Huidobro in the composition "Offrandes," who was a fantastic poet, and friend of Picasso and I presume Varèse as well.   Great album.