Heard Concert Review
Boulez and the LSO (II)
Boulez and Mahler: London Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez; Barbican
Hall, 13th October, 2004 (AR)
Pierre Boulez describes his Dérive 2 (premiere of
latest version) as a “work in progress'’ and it certainly
came across as a free floating form without beginning, centre or end.
The piece ends where is begins, with an A on the horn, giving the
sense that it will begin again and again ad infinitum. The disturbing
sensation of this piece is that it is in pieces: each instrumentalist
is both isolated and integrated at the same time. The sounds are so
highly concentrated and fleeting that they by-pass the ear and attack
the nervous system: this is not music for the ears but music for the
internal organs - the body listens to these visceral sounds. The clock
time of this score runs for around 25 minutes but the sensation of
time made it feel as if it were going on forever in an eternal loop.
The sixteen LSO musicians played this intricate and multifaceted score
with great precision and aplomb.
I have never felt that Boulez has an instinctive feeling for Mahler’s
psycho-pathological scores. In a way, Mahler and Boulez are antithetical.
Boulez says that the Mahler symphonies that most interest him are
5, 6 & 7 but having heard him in these works he seems to have
little, if any, rapport with them. His interpretation of Mahler’s
Seventh Symphony in E minor was more akin to a surgeon’s
scalpel cutting up the body of the score with sterile precision. Mahler
was one of those rare composers who knew how to go too far, piling
crescendo upon crescendo until the head and heart ache together. One
does not listen to Mahler: one experiences Mahler. None of this emotional
over-spill was evident here.
This was clearly an under-rehearsed performance, with the London Symphony
Orchestra sounding undisciplined, coarse and brash: the opening brass
passages were acidic sounding and mostly appallingly played. The pacing
of the Langsam - Allegro was ponderously flat-footed with
Boulez fragmenting the flow of the music. Boulez failed to register
that this is principally a march-type movement and it should not keep
stopping and starting all the time as it did in this performance.
Boulez also totally misconceived the sedate and sensuous Scherzo
Schattenhaft by failing to register the essential smaltz and
kitsch elements of this movement and playing it too straight, too
loudly and, above all, missing its spooky and sinister mood.
Boulez was at his best in the Nachtmusik II which had a lilting
grace and naïve charm overlaid with a brooding melancholia and
a sense of threatening danger. The woodwind and mandolin solos were
exquisitely done while the strings had a serene warmth to them.
The last movement is sheer musical masturbation and not one of Mahler’s
best - it is akin to both the last movement of Bruckner’s 6th
and Tchaikovsky’s 5th in sheer bombast for bombast’s sake.
Most conductors have found this hell-for-leather movement problematical
and difficult to pull off, as Boulez acknowledged in the programme
notes: "I place responsibility for that on my own shoulders,
not on Mahler's." Even Mahler veteran Otto Klemperer couldn’t
hold this anarchic movement together. The opening timpani were robustly
played (as they were throughout) but again the brass were brash. Unlike
the first movement, Boulez had a total grasp of the structure and
metre driving the music forward without sectionalising it. What Boulez
failed to negotiate was the Barbican Hall’s oppressive, in-your-face
acoustic, resulting in the brass sounding too distorted: the symphony
ended in sheer noise, not music. Boulez is not really at home with
Gustav Mahler Seventh Symphony, New York Philharmonic
Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein (conductor): Sony: CD 60564
Back to the Top
to the Index Page