Pierre Boulez has been an exclusive artist with Deutsche Grammophon for over 20 years; his recording legacy with the label is immense. DG celebrate his 90th birthday with a 44-CD box set of his complete DG 20th century music recordings – an aspect of his work that lies at the heart of his achievement. ”The aim of music is not to express feelings but to express music. It is not a vessel into which the composer distills his soul drop by drop, but a labyrinth with no beginning and no end, full of new paths to discover, where mystery remains eternal.” – Pierre Boulez
This is the best Boulez recording in quite a while. He offers the canonic 12 Wunderhorn songs, meaning no Urlicht and no Das himmlische Leben in the original orchestration before it became the finale of the Fourth Symphony. You won't miss them. None of the songs are done as duets, and you won't be bothered by that either. The singing is exceptional: Magdalena Kozená combines a sweet timbre with plenty of personality and attention to the words; Christian Gerhaher's light, somewhat grainy baritone may not be to all tastes, but his unfailing musicality and his gusto (singing but never shouting) in the big "military" songs carries the day.
Thanks to the surprising proliferation of Mahler’s music on DVD, there are multiple performances of this particular symphony with which to compare this new one (not least among them Bernstein’s and Abbado’s); there is also Boulez’s own previous performance with the Vienna Philharmonic, made a couple of months after this concert, available on one generous DG CD, to consider by way of comparison.
If you are only ever going to listen to one disc of the music of Anton Webern, make it this one. It has more of his appealing orchestral music on it than any other disc. There is the Passacaglia, Op. 1 - the finale of Brahms Fourth meets the finale of Mahler's Sixth. There is the Movements (5), Op. 5 - angular, aggressive, and rapturous. There is the Pieces (6), Op. 6 - tender, mysterious, and tragic. There is his pointillistic orchestration of Bach's Ricercar a 6 voci - cool dots of color illuminating a mathematical proof. There is his affectionate orchestration of Schubert's German Dances - lightly lyrical peasant dances done with loving care. There is even his Im Sommerwind - a Romantic tone poem describing his trysts in the Austrian alps.
This is a reissue of Mahler performances delivered in Cologne in 1992 and 1993, and Thomas Quasthoff, just on the verge of international fame, was in phenomenal voice. The upper extension of his beautiful, expressive bass-baritone is thrilling, in perfect control. Artistically, he only grew stronger, as evidenced by his searing reading of 'Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen' under Boulez (DG), but this earlier interpretation comes close, and there's no comparison so far as vocalism is concerned. The WDR orchestra plays well under the rather prosaic leadership of the late Gary Bertini (a native Russian who emigrated to Palestine as a child in the 1930s)– both are good enough, and the recorded sound is excellent. In all, this is a shattering reading by Quasthoff that should be heard by every lover of Mahler.
Mitsuko Uchida has been a committed exponent of Schoenberg's Piano Concerto for over a decade now. It is a work which remains controversial in its adaptation of the serial method to an almost Brahmsian harmonic palette, wedded to a formal approach that takes up the integrated design, and textural richness, of Schoenberg's pre-atonal works. Certainly in terms of the balance between soloist and orchestra, this recording clarifies the often capricious interplay to a degree previously unheard on disc (and most likely in the concert hall too).Interpretatively, it combines Pollini's dynamism, without the hectoring touch that creeps into the Adagio's climactic passages, and Brendel's lucidity, avoiding the deadpan feeling that pervades his final Giocoso.
Here we have not only the (now "Royal") Concertgebouw ensemble in all of its idiomatic glory, magnificently recorded, but also Chailly at his most interpretively perceptive–and the result is absolutely stunning… As a bonus, Mahler's Bach Suite also receives its finest performance on disc. - David Hurwitz; Classicstoday.com