Louis Andriessen De Materie Soloists, Schonberg Ensemble, Asko Ensemble, members of the Netherlands Chamber Choir / Reinbert de Leeuw Nonesuch 7559-79367-2, two discs

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The Independent Culture
When Piet Mondrian took to the dance floor, fellow artists used to call him "the dancing Madonna". You can hear why in "De Stijl", the third lap of Louis Andriessen's dazzling music-theatre masterpiece De Materie, where, at 14'57", Gertrude Thoma speaks a poignant reminiscence over a boogie-style accompaniment. But the real stroke of genius comes a few minutes later, at 20'45", when a high-kicking dance tune bursts in as if out of nowhere. It's hot stuff, though not as hot as the spiritual- erotic confession of Hadewijch, who "fused with [God] till there was naught of me left". Andriessen paints the scene by alternating soft-textured melodies with reptilian scurryings on bass and contrabass clarinets.

Hadewijch occupies Part 2 of the parent work, whereas Part 4 - which commemorates Marie Curie and her husband Pierre - uses material by Louis's father Hendrik and Part 1 opens to the revolutionary "Act of Abjuration" of 1581. Dutch history is an invariable presence, but beyond the foundation of the first Republic, Andriessen whisks us off to a shipbuilder's yard, has his singers teach us the ropes, and colours their instructions with enough percussive thrashing to send the neighbours berserk. Therein lie just a few components of a thrilling music drama that's upbeat one moment, meditative the next, but absolutely never boring. Sound and performance are both superb.