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Thread: Pierre Boulez

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Question Pierre Boulez

    I want to preface this by saying that I'm speaking of him as a conductor and not a composer. I'm not very familiar with his compositions.

    Pierre Boulez was an absolutely inescapable presence in all fields of Modernist music. If ever there was a 20th century composer worth listening to, he probably conducted his major orchestral works, all in his trademark incisive style. Additionally, he had very strong opinions on many of his contemporaries: he once described Shostakovich (and I'm paraphrasing here) as a second- or third-pressing olive oil if Mahler was extra-virgin. I believe he was even known to disparage some composers whose works were in his repertoire. We all know he had some words for Schoenberg, and he recorded more or less his complete orchestral works.

    That being said, of course, many of his recordings are stone cold classics. What do you think of him? Do you like his conducting? Do you wish he was less dominant as a conductor? So few have conducted the orchestral works of Webern and many of those of Schoenberg following his famous recordings. Are people afraid of falling under his shadow? Is he the Herbert von Karajan of the High Modern?

    Am I way off here? I did not live through the era in which he recorded the bulk of his works, so this is all conjecture.

    What do you think?

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    I forgot to leave my opinion: personally, I love his recordings. His first traversal of Webern's complete works is incredible. His Debussy is great. I like what I've heard of his Mahler, which is so different in intent from pretty much any other conductor. And his Rite of Spring with the Cleveland Orchestra is my favorite. But I do wonder why in certain works, there are so few other recordings to compare.

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    Senior Member CnC Bartok's Avatar
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    I'd take a lot of Boulez quotes with a pinch of salt, to be honest! Yes, he did say those things, but many of them were in his younger days, when he advocated burning down all the opera houses!!

    Boulez did have an uncanny ability in his conducting to emphasize the modernist credentials of the music, some might say eschewing the visceral, and so you could describe some readings as "cold".

    I don't. I'll ignore his Second Viennese School recordings, as I can't really compare with "warmer" conducting. Robert Craft is hardly overflowing with unbridled passion!! Karajan maybe is, and it doesn't work for me. I'd see Boulez' recordings as benchmark here....

    Three composers where he's more than worth hearing, fascinating, and immensely satisfying, but not the last word (!!) would include Janáček; I think very highly of his House of the Dead, it's a spiky, stark reading, of a spiky, stark opera, but the moments of pure humanity are all the more moving for it when they surface. It's a trait I find common to many of his interpretations.

    I have a great deal of time for his Mahler. Cold? Maybe. But does Mahler need to be heart on sleeve? Thank God such music survives, nay thrives, on varying approaches!

    And yes, he was rude in his younger days about Bartok, probably because he's not Schoenberg. But hear his old CBS recordings, as well as his later, more comprehensive survey on DGG. Boulez emphasizes the precision and perfection of Bartok's music, orchestral works a la String Quartets! Was Bartok a modernist or the last of the Romantics? Both, most likely! It's an enlightening approach, admittedly I prefer Solti or Ferenc Fricsay, but a perfectly valid approach nonetheless.
    Last edited by CnC Bartok; Apr-18-2019 at 13:36.

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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    What do you think of him? Do you like his conducting?
    For many years I was prejudiced against his conducting, because the few recordings I heard were too cold/clinical. Now I've developed an appreciation for his conducting, especially of pieces I have heard first from other conductors. He tends to take the haze off familiar scores, exposing more details.

    As he got older, his coldness got warmer. For that reason, I prefer, for example, his second Webern cycle over his first. But I've kept them both.

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