Stockhausen, Berio, Boulez, Messiaen, Debussy, Varse, Kagel, Nono, Henze & PousseurStravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern & Berg

COMPOSERS: Berio,Boulez,Debussy,Henze & PousseurStravinsky,Kagel,Messiaen,Nono,Schoenberg,Stockhausen,Varese,Webern & Berg
LABELS: Accords Croises
ALBUM TITLE: Pierre Boulez: Le Domaine Musical Vol. 1 & 2
WORKS: Works by Stockhausen, Berio, Boulez, Messiaen, Debussy, Varèse, Kagel, Nono, Henze & Pousseur
PERFORMER: Vol. 1: Soloists & Domaine musical orchestra/Pierre BoulezVol. 2: Baden-Baden South-West Radio Orchestra/Hans Rosbaud; Soloists & Domaine musical orchestra/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: Accord 476 9209 ADD Reissue (1956-64) and Accord 476 8862 ADD Reissue (1956-67)
After several decades of substantial funding for the arts, especially music, and genuine political leadership on cultural life, it is easy to forget that post-war France was gripped by a kind of cultural torpor. In this context, Pierre Boulez was, for many, a prophetic voice crying in the wilderness, and the concerts of Le Domaine Musical a beacon lighting the way forward. Less emotively, the Domaine Musical was where Boulez honed his remarkable skills as a concert-organizer, and, crucially, it is where he cut his teeth as a conductor.

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These two marvellous four-disc volumes from Accord are a treasure trove, bringing together many of the invaluable live and studio Domaine Musical recordings made by the Vega and Ades labels between 1956 and 1967. There are classic and historic performances aplenty, starting with the 10th anniversary concert featuring a slow-burning performance of Stockhausen’s Kontra-Punkte and an electrifying account of Boulez’s own Le Marteau sans maitre. For contrast, the very first recording of Le Marteau, with the performers clearly at their limits, is included on a limited edition bonus disc, together with a typically eloquent interview (a written translation is provided). The second disc has a typically Boulezian take on French music, with Debussy, Varese and the spikier side of Messiaen, notably a fine Sept Haikai, while the fourth disc of Volume 1 collects together rare accounts of works by Boulez’s ‘fellow travellers’, such as Kagel, Nono, Henze and Pousseur.

These volumes also celebrates the virtuosic performers that joined Boulez’s adventure, of two of whom stand out. Flautists should not be without Severino Gazzelloni’s performances of Berio’s Serenata I, Debussy’s Syrinx, Varese’s Density 21.5 or Boulez’s Sonatine. The set also underlines Yvonne Loriod’s extraordinary contribution to new music. Yes, she plays in the Messiaen pieces, Canteyodjaya, Sept Haikai, and the first performance (no less) of Oiseaux exotiques (under Rudolf Albert, not Boulez). However, Loriod also brings her unflappable pianism to, among others, the premiere of Henze’s Concerto per il Marigny (which immediately preceded that of Oiseaux exotiques), Webern’s Variations, Berg’s Sonata and Boulez’s 2nd Sonata.

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Boulez’s early thoughts on Webern’s Symphonie, Schoenberg’s Three pieces for orchestra and Chamber Symphony or Webern’s Cantatas 1 and 2 are riveting. The bone dry acoustics, here and elsewhere, are worlds away from the lush production on his more fluid recent recordings. These all come in the second volume, three discs of which are devoted to the Second Viennese School, the mainstays of Domaine Musical concerts. There is also a disc devoted to Stravinsky, with a gregarious Renard, coming hard on the heels of a neatly clipped Symphonies of Wind Instruments, but the highlight is Hans Rosbaud’s beautifully shaped account of Agon. There may be better individual performances of many works, and certainly superior sound, but these discs chart a phenomenon that helped to change cultural life in France and beyond. Christopher Dingle