We last reviewed Swiss composer Antoine Chessex two years ago when we covered Dust, a piece written for violin trio and electronics. This new collection expands the instrumentation and demonstrates the breadth of his talents. These chamber works represent only one facet of his output; Chessex is also an installation artist and has released a number of tenor sax albums, the latest of which is multiple on Musica Moderna. But Selected Chamber Works is the release to visit first.
“Angst Miniature” (for string trio and tape) begins with the sound of fire alarms. But of course these are not fire alarms; they are violins. It would be interesting to see the reaction to the piece as an installation. Would visitors listen nervously or look around for the fire? Valerio Tricoli (whose recent PAN release Miseri Lares is one of our favorites) surrounds the strings with tape manipulations, creating smoke around the frenzied flames. The compact nature of the piece underlines its effectiveness; Giuseppe Ielasi‘s mastering makes it sound live and immediate.
Tricoli’s reel-to-reel work is also present on “Metakatharsis”, which in every other way is completely different. In this half-hour piece, The Phoenix Ensemble replaces the strings with flute, clarinet, trumpet, double bass, piano, percussion and electronics. Ironically, the extended tones sometimes seem to emulate violins, creating a phantom section of deserted chairs. One suspects that the best way to hear this composition is live, due to its long builds, segments of near-silence and simmerings of sound, each more thrilling than the last. A live audience, concentrating only on the music, would likely be enthralled. It’s hard to recreate this atmosphere of tension at home, but at the moment there’s no other way to hear this music.
“Ritournelle Fulgurante (for Leo Mingrone)” and “Schichten” return to the shorter form, relying on different permutations of the oh ton Ensemble. The violin returns on each piece, while the other players change. The former borrows the staccato phrasing of Penderecki while the suspense of the latter yields hints that Chessex may eventually be interested in film work, albeit on his own terms. We suspect that Chessex is an artist more interested in integrity than income, and his unwillingness to compromise his own vision enables his work to shine in a field of dull edges. (Richard Allen)