LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Hommage à Boulez
WORKS: Dialogue de l’ombre double; Mémoriale; Le marteau sans maître*; Anthèmes 2; Dérive 2; Messagesquisse *Hilary Summers (contralto);
PERFORMER: West-Eastern Divan Orchestra/ Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: DG 479 7160
That many more music-lovers now know Pierre Boulez (1925-2016) as a groundbreaking composer as well as conductor and one-time polemicist is thanks to his collaborator of 50-some years, Daniel Barenboim: following the latter’s performance of Dérive 2 at 2012’s BBC Proms – conducting members of the likewise trailblazing West-Eastern Divan Orchestra – Boulez reportedly joked that more people heard it that evening than at all previous performances combined.
The occasion forms the highlight of this superb tribute comprising live recordings of solo and chamber pieces. Drawn from those Proms (CD 1) and Berlin’s 2010 homage to Boulez at 85 (CD 2), the latter includes the seminal Le Marteau sans maître; coincidentally partly inspired by west-east instrumental sonorities, it’s conducted with age-defying vigour by Boulez himself and exquisitely sung by Hilary Summers.
Spanning 1954 to 2009, these oft-revised/extended works are dazzlingly complex. Yet Boulez’s timbres have a crystalline beauty and an underlying lyricism born of a poetic German-French sensibility; Berg, for instance, haunts Dérive 2 while Messiaen is palpable in the shadow-boxing, soloist-plus-electronics Dialogue de l’ombre double (clarinet) and Anthèmes 2 (violin). Messagesquisse, for cello solo and six cellos, is most readily grasped with its motifs on patron Paul Sacher’s name, while Mémoriale (flute with strings/horn octet) is also a poignant tribute, to flautist Lawrence Beauregard. Dérive 2 is simply breathtaking: in compositional scope and its precise yet fluid performance by the 11 virtuoso soloists under Barenboim’s taut direction.