KUNIKO - Xenakis: IX - Gramophone

The acclaimed percussion virtuoso Kuniko goes it alone, so to speak, in an impressive multitracked performance of Xenakis's four-movement, 40-minute 1975 percussion ensemble work Pleïades. Although Kuniko calibrates balances, dynamics, nuances and sonorities with her expected precision, she also creates a genuine sense of repartee between the parts, as if the six original percussionists were interacting. The subtle contrast between the third movement's resonating and non-resonating mallet instruments is particularly telling, as are the sounds of the different-size drum heads throughout the fourth movement. Reviewing the recording by Les Percussions de Strasbourg (Denon, 1/90), Arnold Whittall wrote that 'each movement is too long to sustain unflagging interest in what is essentially a music of rhythm and colour rather than, in the widest sense, of ideas,' and I have to agree with his assessment.

These words also apply to Rebonds for solo percussion, although there are many striking moments (pun intended!) such as Part A's asymmetrical flourishes. Mastering the composer's complex and multi-level rhythmic notation and pinpoint dynamic indications may well represent a kind of rite of passage to percussion virtuosos. Kuniko passes this rite triumphantly. Her effortless, glitch-free technique and ability to manipulate mallets and sticks to seemingly coax melodies from non-melodic instruments are bound to humble aspiring and established percussionists alike. Her clear, descriptive and often personalised annotations refreshingly contrast to Xenakis's convoluted and rather off-putting programme note for Pleïades.

Gramophone
01 June 2015