WORKS: Trois poemes de Stephane Mallarme; Chansons madecasses; Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: Jill Gomez, Jessye Norman (soprano), Jose van Dam (baritone); BBC SO, NYPO, Ensemble InterContemporain/Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: SMK 64107 ADD (1976-84)
While Pierre Boulez is rapidly retracing his steps through his favourite repertoire in new recordings for DG, Sony continues to re-release his first thoughts from the Sixties and Seventies. They are a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from a rather ploddingly matter-of-fact Symphonic fantastique horn 1967 to one of the finest recordings of Bluebeard’s Castle, with the best Judith on disc in Troyanos. The other performances in the Berlioz set offer greater delights, particularly some fizzing overtures and a fine Nuits d’ete shared by Burrows and Minton. The rather rawly recorded Wooden Prince on the Bart6k set cannot stand comparison with Boulez’s own, suaver remake, though the Music for Strings… and Dance Suite are more successful.
The Wagner disc is also one of mixed blessings: a rather stern troupe of Mastersingers and glossed-over emotions of Tristan are joined by the Lisztian fire of the Faust Overture and a refreshing, balmy account of the Siegfried Idyll m its chamber version.
The Stravinsky ballets are prime Boulez territory and these versions of Petrushka and The Rite of Spring have more edge and power than his all-too-sleek 1992 remakes.
Another rewarding issue is the Ravel disc, with Boulez drawing voluptuous colouring from members of the BBC SO and the Ensemble InterContemporain, and with fine singing from Norman and Van Dam. The coupling is a not wholly apt but nonetheless thrilling account of Roussel’s Third Symphony.
Booby prize goes to the one new release among these discs, Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, which has understandably lain in Sony’s vaults for 23 years. Boulez wallows for far too long in the perfumed bubble bath of the first two thirds – much of it at an excruciatingly slow tempo – before streaking for the finish in an orgiastic dash. Even Sinopoli (DG) sounds less mannered. Matthew Rye