The Symphony No. 7, nicknamed "The Song of the Night," is widely regarded as the most enigmatic of Mahler's cycle and the most difficult to coherently interpret as a symphonic structure, even by this composer's extraordinary standards. The movements are undeniably Mahlerian in their abrupt mood swings and ironic twists, and each offers a wealth of fantastic ideas and brilliant orchestration – arguably the most innovative sounds in all of Mahler's works.
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.
Between 1994 and 2011, Pierre Boulez recorded the symphonies and songs of Gustav Mahler for Deutsche Grammophon, and for many listeners these recordings are high points in his catalog, while others regard them as idiosyncratic recordings for specialists. The basis of both views stems from Boulez's meticulous conducting and exacting performance standards, which produce music of extreme lucidity and precision, yet which can also seem overly cerebral and dispassionate. Boulez's approach to Mahler may seem clinical, and this is a reasonable assessment of the way he treats details, textures, timbres, dynamics, and rhythms as indicated in the score, clearly and cleanly, without adding personal touches or interpreting the music through Mahler's biography or his own mythology.
Like the growth of the cult of Christ, the growth of the cult of Mahler started with the man himself performing his works whenever and wherever he had the chance. Like Christ, Mahler was followed by true believers who had known him and who proselytized for him among the unbelievers with the fervor of musical Pentecostals. The true believers were followed by those who had never known the man himself but whose belief was therefore all the more passionate and subjective. And thus it was that the faith spread from Mahler to Walter, Klemperer, and Mengelberg; and then on to Mitropoulos, Bernstein, Kubelik, Solti, and Haitink; then on to Abbado, Bertini, Boulez, de Waart, Inbal, Maazel, and Rattle, spreading from the true believers to the passionate believers of the true believers to those who still keep the belief but whose faith is more reason than emotion, more intellect than spirit, more nuance than rapture.
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.
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.