Boulez: Notations; Structures pour deux pianos – livre II; … explosante-fixe…

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WORKS: Notations; Structures pour deux pianos – livre II; … explosante-fixe…
PERFORMER: Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Florent Boffard (piano), Sophie Cherrier, Emmanuelle Ophèle, Pierre-André Valade (flute); Ensemble InterContemporain/Pierre Boulez
This disc shows just how far Boulez the composer has travelled over the last fifty years – and how true he’s stayed to his roots. The twelve Notations were written in 1945, when the composer was just twenty. They are wonderfully concentrated miniatures, nearly all less than a minute long, full of an explosive energy held tightly in check and then suddenly released. Pierre-Laurent Aimard admirably projects the ‘frenzy’ (a favourite word of Boulez) in these pieces, but he finds, in between the flying shards of notes, a vein of introspection as well. In the two-piano Structures, which followed eight years later, the stark opposition between eruptive brilliance and utter stillness is still there, but it’s softened by a new complexity of texture. Those held chords are now agitated by trills and encrusted with decorative skirls, despatched here with intimidating brilliance by Aimard and Florent Boffard. After all this steely monochrome intensity, the rich, not to say indulgent, palette of … explosante-fixe… comes as a shock – albeit a delicious one. Everything about this piece is luxurious – its length, its burbling flute-saturated sounds, its piled-up textures, and, most surprising of all after Notations, its ingratiating harmonies, which often recall Debussy. Like the other two pieces, it’s beautifully played and recorded. Ivan Hewett