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Xe­nakis: String Quar­tets

(Mode) Sieve the­ory, ran­dom paths, ar­bores­cences: such ideas rat­tle around the cra­ni­ums of math­e­mati­cians as a mat­ter of course, but not un­til Ian­nis Xe­nakis burst onto the scene did the aes­thetic im­pli­ca­tions of such no­tions be­come clear. A French com­poser of Greek parent­age, Xe­nakis (1922-2001) trained to be a civil en­gi­neer and de­vel­oped into an ar­chi­tect, work­ing as an as­sis­tant to Le Cor­bus­ier. Dur­ing the 1950s, he em­barked on his path of ex­plor­ing ad­vanced math­e­mat­i­cal con­cepts through mu­sic, un­cov­er­ing the­o­ret­i­cal com­mon­al­ity among dis­parate art forms (es­pe­cially mu­sic and ar­chi­tec­ture), and gen­er­at­ing a cor­pus of com­po­si­tions that has not grown less chal­leng­ing as the years pass. His four-string quar­tets span most of his ma­ture ca­reer, from 1956 to 1992, and here they re­ceive au­thor­i­ta­tive, ra­zor-sharp per­for­mances from JACK Quar­tet, a fear­less four­some, founded in 2005 at the East­man School of Mu­sic, that’s on the rise. You can’t ap­proach these tough pieces ca­su­ally. You com­mit to them. It may take four or five trips through them all, with just one at a sin­gle sit­ting, be­fore their pow­er­ful struc­tures start to swim into sonic fo­cus. Have faith: each will re­veal its par­tic­u­lar beauty, much though you may doubt it when you first en­counter the vi­o­lent dis­so­nance of Ergma, Xe­nakis’ fi­nal quar­tet. This CD should achieve hit-pa­rade sta­tus among the Santa Fe In­sti­tute crowd, but any ad­ven­tur­ous lis­tener will find much here to daz­zle the ear and en­large the mind. —James M. Keller

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