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Thread: What do you think of Boulez's Mahler?

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Default What do you think of Boulez's Mahler?

    To piggyback on DavidA's interesting series of threads on the great Mahler conductors Tennstedt, Bernstein, and Rattle, I wanted to pose another question of the TC community:

    What do you think of Pierre Boulez's Mahler?

    It seems that Boulez, like the other names I mentioned, is more divisive than most, both as a conductor in general and more specifically as a Mahlerian. Some love his clarity, others think his approach to Mahler lacks emotion or flexibility.

    Personally, I haven't heard much, but I love what I have heard. He treats Mahler like a 20th century composer, which of course he was. In his recordings I'm always hearing details that I've never heard in others.

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    It's a variable set - like a lot of others. Some highs, some lows. The orchestral precision is phenomenal, the choice of orchestras as good as it gets, the recorded sound excellent. But very often I am reminded of that quip about him when he went to New York: The Iceman Cometh. There's more to Mahler than just getting all the notes right, and his emotional restraint is sometimes a handicap. His method works well with 5, 6, 7 and even 9. There are times in the 2nd that I just wish he would let his hair down and let loose! It's not my favorite Mahler, but it works well enough for many people. Kind of like Tchaikovsky: do you want all the emotions raw and exposed? then get Bernstein. You want more control and restrain, then Jarvi is your man.
    Last edited by mbhaub; Apr-21-2020 at 01:52.

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    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    You won't be surprised to hear me advocate strongly for Boulez's Mahler. It was all very divisive when released, but it seems to me it has earned reasonably broad acceptance since then. It is certainly far less sentimental overall than say Bernstein, but never unmusical or unemotional.

    First of all, Boulez's recording of Das klagende Lied (the first one with the LSO) remains a reference recording. It's superb, and unmatched still. Boulez's Mahler 3 is very close to being my favorite No. 3, and I turn to it often. I recently listened to No. 6 and still think it's one of the best. Same with No. 9. But I really have no significant reservations about any of Boulez's Mahler. The weakest is probably No. 7, but not to the degree of being unrecommendable.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Knorf View Post
    You won't be surprised to hear me advocate strongly for Boulez's Mahler. It was all very divisive when released, but it seems to me it has earned reasonably broad acceptance since then. It is certainly far less sentimental overall than say Bernstein, but never unmusical or unemotional.

    First of all, Boulez's recording of Das klagende Lied (the first one with the LSO) remains a reference recording. It's superb, and unmatched still. Boulez's Mahler 3 is very close to being my favorite No. 3, and I turn to it often. I recently listened to No. 6 and still think it's one of the best. Same with No. 9. But I really have no significant reservations about any of Boulez's Mahler. The weakest is probably No. 7, but not to the degree of being unrecommendable.
    I bought his Mahler 6. Should be coming to me soon and I'm very much looking forward to hearing it. The 6th, I'm afraid to admit, is a symphony I've had trouble fully understanding—sometimes it completely bowls me over, other times I get little out of it. Interesting that you say the 7th is the weakest, I've heard others declare it a strong point of his cycle and indeed I was just looking at buying it the other day

    I've heard a good many people trash Boulez's Mahler 8 on the grounds that Boulez himself disliked the symphony and "only recorded it to complete his cycle". A fairly well known critic who writes for Forbes wrote something along those lines on his survey of Mahler 8th recordings, and when I asked him for a source, he told me he'd read it somewhere but couldn't link me to any reading material that corroborates this. Anyway, as Boulez has recorded the 8th multiple times, as early as 1975 (or earlier) with the BBC SO, I have doubts about this claim, and I am curious to hear his DG account. Maybe others here might be able to weigh in on this...? I am genuinely curious what Boulez would have thought of the 8th symphony, beyond any questions of whether his interpretation of it is worth hearing.

    Finally, I think it's high time I track down his Klagende Lied. I don't have a recording of that at all.

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    Senior Member Ekim the Insubordinate's Avatar
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    All I have is his newer DG album of Mahler Lieder with Quasthoff and van Otter, which I enjoy quite a bit.

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    His set is my favorite overall, but far from perfect. I like him in 3, 4, and 9 a great deal, and find his middle period symphonies a worthy addition but none coming close to the best interpretations. The lieder is top notch, DLVDE worth hearing for the baritone but some dislike the work performed this way (I am relatively agnostic as DLVDE is not among my favorite Mahler). Oh and the Adagio of the 10th is very fine.

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    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    Interesting that you say the 7th is the weakest, I've heard others declare it a strong point of his cycle and indeed I was just looking at buying it the other day
    Well, I mean, heck, if you're interested, go for it. It definitely doesn't suck, quite the contrary. It's just further from my own absolute favorites than the others. I know commentators call it the highlight, but it isn't for me. This is one where I do find Boulez a bit stiff, like he can't quite believe in the last movement. Compared to Bernstein or Fischer or Abbado, it's not just that competitive for me. But, as I said, it's still very good.

    I've heard a good many people trash Boulez's Mahler 8 on the grounds that Boulez himself disliked the symphony and "only recorded it to complete his cycle"...I am genuinely curious what Boulez would have thought of the 8th symphony, beyond any questions of whether his interpretation of it is worth hearing.
    I think Boulez never would have recorded anything he didn't believe in that late in his career. He had no trouble saying no by then. But I don't know what he might have said or written about it.

    Also, it's hardly necessary to like something to perform it well. I, as a professional bassoonist, have to play stuff I dislike all the time, but I must, as my job, play it well enough that no one would ever know! I've gotten praise for my performances of stuff I hated, so I know I can pull it off. No one can read minds. Telepathy isn't real. We performers have to create the scenario, where audience will connect to the music, using physical means; whatever is in our head is mainly "hey, don't screw this up."

    Anyway, I found Boulez's Mahler 8 to be quite good. Admittedly, I don't own it, because I was not that into the 8th when it came out and I didn't feel like I needed more recordings of it, as good as it is. But I'm much more into the 8th now, so maybe I will get it sometime.

    Finally, I think it's high time I track down his Klagende Lied. I don't have a recording of that at all.
    YES! Be sure to get the Boulez recording with the LSO, on Sony, not the DG remake. The latter just isn't quite as good.
    Last edited by Knorf; Apr-21-2020 at 04:12.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    OT: hit and miss

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Merl View Post
    OT: hit and miss
    What are some of the hits for you, Merl?

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    I have Boulez' Mahler #1 and #9...both very good...His CSO #9 is one of the very best..

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bz3 View Post
    The lieder is top notch, DLVDE worth hearing for the baritone but some dislike the work performed this way
    ??? There's no baritone on Boulez's DLVDE.

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    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heck148 View Post
    I have Boulez' Mahler #1 and #9...both very good...His CSO #9 is one of the very best..
    Hey! We agree on something!

    (Just kidding, I know we agree on lots of stuff. For example, make I take from your user handle that you play on a Heckel? I play on an old Heckel bassoon and contrabassoon; I just adore the Heckel sound!)

    I think the only reason I haven't bought the Boulez Mahler box is that I bought so many of them already individually, and on SACD. Not all of them are my favorite, but none of them have disappointed me, either, and I listen to those I have pretty frequently, especially the Third.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    What are some of the hits for you, Merl?
    I like the 1st, 6th and (to a lesser degree) the 9th but the 2nd and 5th leave me cold. Tbh, I've not played them in years. Maybe I should.
    Last edited by Merl; Apr-21-2020 at 19:57.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Merl View Post
    I like the 1st, 6th and (to a lesser degree) the 9th but the 2nd and 5th leave me cold. Tbh, I've not played them in years. Maybe I should.
    I can only speak for myself, of course, but I loved Boulez's 5th. A damn fine recording. But I'm afraid to admit that we may have different preferences in Mahler. I found that the Honeck Mahler 1 which bowled you over left me rather cold. But I'm picky with Mahler 1.

    In either case, you might owe it to yourself to give Boulez's Mahler another shot. If nothing else maybe you'll hear something you never noticed before in eg. the 5th. That's how I felt listening the other day, even though I'd heard that recording before.

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    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    With Boulez, you'll almost always hear something you never heard before! Some people like that; some don't.

    Yep, I like it.

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