Debussy, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Bart—k, Anonymous

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Anonymous,Bartok,Debussy,Messiaen,Stravinsky
LABELS: Col legno
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Dialogo Della Musica Antiqua Et Della Moderna
WORKS: Le martyre de Saint Sébastien; The Flood; Oiseaux exotiques; Cantata profana; La messe de Tournai
PERFORMER: Bavarian RSO & Chorus/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: WWE 2CD 20084 ADD
Releasing live recordings from the Sixties of the young Boulez conducting an eclectic bunch of works looks enticing, but the results are distinctly mixed. The multitudinous birds of Oiseaux exotiques are strictly disciplined in this lean and mean early account of Messiaen’s seminal classic, which is resolutely swift compared to more recent accounts from Boulez. His affection for Bartók’s underrated Cantata profana has also endured, producing a wonderful studio recording with the Chicago SO (DG) whose only real competitor is Solti (Decca). Comparison between the younger and older Boulez is less instructive here, with a poor recording and ragged singing making wading through treacle seem like a precision sport. Stravinsky’s The Flood fares no better. It is not the composer’s most consistently inspired work and this incisive but flat performance does little to change that view. Performed in German (not, as the booklet claims, English), this release will attract only the most obsessive Stravinsky devotees.

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The eccentric version of Messe de Tournai is oddly placed among these modern icons, but it is strangely apposite as a prelude to Le martyre de Saint Sébastien. Le martyre overcomes the obstacles besetting the other works seemingly by a feat of sheer will-power. Tilson Thomas’s classic account remains the best way to discover this extraordinary work on disc, but it is a treat to hear a rare live performance of this intoxicating drama. Nevertheless, these performances generally are disappointing, not helped by poor presentation (a brief note on the music would not go amiss) and muddy sound. Christopher Dingle