- Pierre Boulez - Narrowing Musical Choices [Recommended Recordings]
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28 October, 2012
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Pierre Boulez
Recommended Recordings

"More and more I find that in order to create effectively one has to consider delirium and, yes, organize it"

20/21 - Boulez: Repons, Dialogue De L'Ombre Double
(Vincent Bauer, Florent Boffard, et al; Ensemble InterContemporain; Pierre Boulez, conductor)
Written in the mid-1980s, Répons represents Pierre Boulez's first major work after his controversial tenure conducting the New York Philharmonic. It's also a demonstration of how live instruments could be used in conjunction with computer-generated sound. He's been strangely hesitant to record it, which is even more mystifying the more one listens to this new DG release. It's one of the longest uninterrupted spans of music Boulez has ever composed. And while not as provocative as some of his early works, it's a marvel, a forest of sound that one wants to return to again and again. The live instruments (which include a Hungarian cimbalom) are dominated by richly textured percussion, which doesn't exactly make Répons unmelodic as beyond melody. Initially, the effects seem repetitive--alternating activity and stasis--but what later unfolds is a rich, gratifying, thematically unified exploration of sound with a meticulously planned exposition, development, and recapitulation. The companion piece, Dialogue de l'ombre double, is more modest and in some ways more charming, exploring spatial effects and pedal points between the live and computerized clarinet sound. Those interested in the future of music--both in terms of means and content--must hear this. (review by David Patrick Stearns)

20/21 Boulez: Sur Incises, Messagesquisse, Anthemes 2
(Vincent Bauer, Florent Boffard, et al; Ensemble InterContemporain members, Paris Cello Ensemble; Pierre Boulez, conductor)
To see the future of classical music, just look to the projects of Pierre Boulez. Whether conducting Bruckner, Mahler, or one of his own compositions, he continues to surprise, embellish, and reinvent the shape of music today. Sur Incises gathers three Boulez works that each focus, at least in part, on a singular instrument. The world-premiere title track uses three pianos, three harps, and three percussionists to create a dense, atonal, but very pianistic universe of sound. On repeated listenings, the abstract piece becomes more rewarding; you eventually pick up on Boulez's keen eye for tonal colors and shadings. On Anthemes 2, the piercing sounds of Hai-Sun Kang's violin are sampled, manipulated, and relayed back to her via electronics. Here, you won't find the lush Impressionism that Boulez hints at with Sur Incises, but you will find a fascinating interplay between organic and synthetic sounds. Messagesquisse for six cellos achieves similar results; the solo cello of Jean-Guihen Queyras is echoed and hinted at by five other cellists. As on their acclaimed recording of the composer's Répons, the Ensemble InterContemporain sets a high standard for these works, and DG does an excellent job with the recorded sound. These pieces may lack some of the musical magic of Repons, but they're no less fascinating. (review by Jason Verlinde)

Boulez conducts Boulez: ...Explosante-Fixe...
(Sophie Cherrier, Emmanuelle Ophèle, et al; Ensemble InterContemporain; Pierre Boulez, conductor)
Pierre Boulez is a genuine rarity, a conductor who holds his own as a respected composer. Here he conducts a trio of his own works, from his earliest-published composition, Notations, to the version of ...explosante-fixe... that he conducted at IRCAM in the early 1990s. The piano works reveal what Boulez treasures: extremity of contrast, bruised sonorities humming as constant color, and skewered virtuosity. From Notations, things proceed to Structures pour deux pianos, where pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Florent Boffard dash into, across, beyond, above, and below each other in clustering runs and spare, telling jabs. The 36-minute ...explosante-fixe... is a celebration of accelerated and intensified sonic forestry. Sophie Cherrier's solo MIDI flute is electronically tampered with as a chamber orchestra and two additional flutes seek to ensnare, overwhelm, and surround Cherrier with unending swirls of sound. Energetic would be too flat a word to describe this display of volume and shifting soundscapes. Boulez advances electroacoustic composition here and shows himself a spectacular performing visionary in his leadership of the piece. (review by Andrew Bartlett)


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