“Hommage a Boulez” = BOULEZ: Derive 2; Dialogue; Memoriale; Le Marteau; Anthemes 2; Messagesquisse – West-Eastern Divan Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim – DG

“Hommage a Boulez” = Pierre BOULEZ: Derive 2; Dialogue de l’ombre double; Memoriale; Le Marteau sans maitre; Anthemes 2; Messagesquisse – West-Eastern Divan Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim – Deutsches Grammaphon 479 7160 (3/24/17) 2 CDs, 142:27, ***1/2:

Complex and fascinating music in excellent performances.

The music of the late Pierre Boulez is not an easy listen. It is never harsh or overtly and purposefully atonal but his works have always required careful and patient listening. The result, if one devotes the time, is to appreciate the pallet of rich sonorities that Boulez always gave his ensembles and to try to follow the motives and snippets of ‘theme’ that ripple through his scores.

What is most interesting and valuable about this very fine collection is to realize the connection and years worth of collaboration between the composer and conductor Daniel Barenboim and the composer; a relationship that goes back to 1975 and continued right through Barenboim’s tenure as music director of the Chicago Symphony and beyond. I knew but one of these works going into this recording but the dedication and precision that Barenboim brings to these complex, cerebral works is apparent.

I was glad to see the inclusion of Boulez’s 1953 masterwork Le Marteau sans maitre (“The Hammer without a master”)  This fairly extensive three song cycle on poems by Rene Char takes the singer and listener through a dark, symbolic, Kafka-esque view of the conditions in the world. This was actually, in may ways, Boulez’s ‘breakout’ work. I remember it being the one piece of his which became required analysis in contemporary music classes. In this case, Boulez himself conducts this masterpiece from a Berlin concert on his eight-fifth birthday and alto Hilary Summers performs with the requisite breathy, dark, haunted timbre required.

I found all the works in this important collection very interesting at least. The clarinetist in me really enjoyed the display of pyrotechnics and mood created in the Dialogue de l’ombre double. The ‘double shadow’ is literally a timbral result of the clarinet with electronic effects and a pre-recorded tape (constructed electronics.) I felt similarly involved with Anthemes 2 for violin and electronics; in this case featuring the conductor’s son, Michael Barenboim.

There is such an amazing and unpredictable wealth of sound and mood found within these works that this collection serves quite well to illustrate the range of voice and variety of ideas that Boulez created over the years. It is fascinating, really, to listen to Le Marteau; Anthemes 2 and then Messagesquisse (for solo cello and six cellos) and realize these very different works were all written by the same composer.

I am not sure where history will place Boulez or his music. He deserves to be remembered and performed for the great talent and high intellect that he was – surely one of the most purely intelligent musicians of the twentieth century.  He was also a gifted conductor with a passion for Mahler, Stravinsky and others. I saw him conduct in Chicago once and his lack of podium ‘bravura’ was more than replaced by the precision and clarity of sound he could bring to any score.

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is a superb ensemble with an interesting and ‘global’ genesis. This group is a youth orchestra based in Seville, Spain, consisting of musicians from countries in the Middle East, of Egyptian, Iranian, Israeli, Jordanian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian and Spanish background. Barenboim was one of the key people in creating this group and promoting both their work as well as the idea of music as a cultural bridge. These are very talented and dedicated young musicians to be sure!

This is a very important collection which features music of Boulez all written later in his life; after the age of fifty. I still think many would find his music to be not necessarily an ‘easy’ listen but we can listen and appreciate the great talent and eclectic creations of this esteemed composer-conductor.

—Daniel Coombs

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