The years have seen Pierre Boulez record for CBS, Erato, EMI, and Philips, among other labels, but his most consistent and critically praised work has appeared on Deutsche Grammophon, where he has conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and his own Ensemble InterContemporain in many successful performances. These ensembles are heard on this trimline, six-CD box set of Igor Stravinsky's major works, which brings together Boulez's recordings of L'oiseau de feu, Petrushka, Le Sacre du printemps, L'histoire du Soldat, the symphonies, concertos, and other works, recorded between 1980 and 1996. As one of the leading champions of modernism, first as a composer and essayist, then as a prominent conductor, Boulez is regarded as an authority on Stravinsky's oeuvre, and it is difficult to imagine many conductors who have a better understanding of the technical and stylistic issues that affect performances. Boulez is also famous for his precision and meticulousness, which make the details stand out clearly in the rhythmically complex and texturally dense orchestral scores of the ballets, and yet seem so delicate and exact in the concertos and pieces for smaller ensembles.
The three works presented here reveal distinctly different phases of Arnold Schoenberg's development, each a critical point of departure. In the Pieces (5) for Orchestra (1909), Schoenberg's atonal language appears full-blown and marks a clear break with tonality. For the first time, Schoenberg places content over form and dispenses with any pretenses toward classical objectivity or balance.
Mitsuko Uchida has been a committed exponent of Schoenberg's Piano Concerto for over a decade now. It is a work which remains controversial in its adaptation of the serial method to an almost Brahmsian harmonic palette, wedded to a formal approach that takes up the integrated design, and textural richness, of Schoenberg's pre-atonal works. Certainly in terms of the balance between soloist and orchestra, this recording clarifies the often capricious interplay to a degree previously unheard on disc (and most likely in the concert hall too).Interpretatively, it combines Pollini's dynamism, without the hectoring touch that creeps into the Adagio's climactic passages, and Brendel's lucidity, avoiding the deadpan feeling that pervades his final Giocoso.
This 11-disc set is essential for anyone interested in the music of Arnold Schoenberg. It is the complete Sony "Boulez Conducts Schoenberg" series in a Brilliant-style box without jewel cases. Whether you are just investigating Schoenberg, or looking to complete the series, this is a most welcome release.
Peter Stein staged the work for Welsh National Opera in 1992 and won universal praise, as did Pierre Boulez for his conducting. Within austere, wholly appropriate sets, beautifully lit by Jean Kalman, Stein catches the very essence of this singular and elusive piece. Each of the 15 scenes is given its own distinctive décor in which the action is played out on several levels – high for the tower scenes, low for the eerie, subterranean grottoes, for instance. A masterstroke is the subtle evolution from one scene to another in view of the audience, offering a visual counterpoint to the interludes. Stein sees that Debussy's instructions are scrupulously observed. In fact, as a whole, this is an object-lesson in modern staging. Stein and his collaborators reflect the ebb and flow of crude realism and fragile dream-life that permeate the score, which Boulez has identified as lying at its heart. Director and conductor worked closely with each other over a six-week rehearsal period, something unlikely to occur today, so Boulez's interpretation is in complete accord with the staging, his musical direction at once direct and luminous, timbres finely balanced one with the other.
Recorder virtuoso Erik Bosgraaf (b. 1980) was personally granted permission to arrange for recorder Boulez' (1925-2016) Dialogue de l'ombre double, originally for clarinet and electronics. ...The result is a dynamic interplay between Bosgraaf's recorder and the fascinating electronic timbres and colours. The second work on this release is a musical dialogue between Bosgraaf and electronic wizard Jorrit Tamminga (b. 1973), creating unheard-of sounds of the recorder interwoven in electronic sound tapestries.
Swiss pianist Ingrid Karlen makes her ECM debut with Variations, of which the program is as provocative as the title is vague. Beyond variations in the traditional sense, these are, rather, mise-en-abymes of abstractions. Or so they might at first aural glance seem, for within these sometimes troubling clusters of false starts breathes a unity at once organic and contrived. Anton Webern’s Variations for Piano, op. 27 (1935/36) is the primary example, for the only variations they seem to engender stem from that which cannot be notated. These pieces behave as might a solo violin sonata, jumping fluidly and bow-like through their ephemeral 12-tone links. They are the anti-motif, a stretch of childhood unable to be sifted.
In Patrice Chéreau's illuminating, violent Bayreuth production of Das Rheingold, Wotan wears the brocade coat of feudal times while the Rhine seems to be a reservoir with a modern power station - but, as Chéreau states, it "could also be many other things… a menacing construction, a theatrical machine to produce a river, an allegorical shape that today generates energy: perhaps a mythological presence, the mythology of our time… The gods' ascent to Valhalla (is) a defiant flight into the future."