Editor: Marc Bridle


Webmaster: Len Mullenger





WWW MusicWeb

Search Music Web with FreeFind

Any Review or Article



Seen and Heard International Concert Review

Boulez and Stravinsky: London Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez (conductor), Carnegie Hall, New York City, January 29, 2005 (BH)

Boulez: Dérive 2 (1988-2002)
Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920)
Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps (1911-13)

Last June I had the great pleasure of hearing Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Rite at Disney Hall in Los Angeles, where the room’s remarkable acoustic only enhanced the impact of Salonen’s reading – perhaps over-the-top and mannered for some, but compelling nonetheless. It was so satisfying that afterward I really didn’t expect, or need, to hear the piece again for a while. (Although just as an aside, I think it’s good to hear something you like at least once a year live, if you can.)

Well, any thought of taking the Rite for granted was blown to smithereens on Saturday night, when Pierre Boulez and the London Symphony Orchestra made the walls of Carnegie Hall absolutely smoke, with a relentless and ferocious version that went a long way toward reminding me why the piece was so startling to begin with. What was notable was Boulez’s focus on the music – he used a score throughout, although at this point he could do this in his sleep – and one lingering image from the evening is of his neatly tailored frame, meticulously leading the ensemble with his hands operating in almost military precision.

What seemed to work not quite as well with the Mahler Fifth two nights earlier, worked like a dream here: an insistence on absolute clarity, a dogged fidelity to the rhythms and their relationship to each other, and a rather crafty sense of drama, envisioning the piece as a series of highs and lows, escalating to its horrifying conclusion, instead of one blockbuster moment after another. Rather than rushing to each high point and thereby presuming that the moments in between are somehow lulls, Boulez made the quieter moments seethe with tension, particularly noticeable in the LSO’s string section, ready to attack at any moment. Further, Boulez wisely held back some of his tricks in reserve, so that some of the big moments later in the piece emerged as genuine surprises. (It’s always a pleasure to feel the vibrations of a piece like this through the floor.) A score that in some hands can seem like one long noisy rant, here had strategically planned contours.

Abetted by the grippingly vivid playing of the LSO, many sections had the almost dispassionate reserve of a documentary film, but one in which the events being observed are too disturbing to contemplate. In the climactic “Dance of the Earth,” the rhythms piled themselves on top of each other so dutifully, but so clearly – you almost wanted the experience to stop, yet couldn’t help watching. I felt as if I were being dragged along kicking and screaming. The final sacrificial sequence was terrifying in its implacable buildup, with Boulez patiently, quietly making a clear break before the LSO percussionists thwacked the final volcanic chord. The bassoonist, Rachel Gough, received not one but two citations as Boulez returned to the shrieks of the audience, and I would have been happy to see her stand up yet again. The nightmare wouldn’t have been the same without her rather deceptively quiet beginning.

Just prior came a hymn-like Symphonies of Wind Instruments, with Boulez offering it in its original 1920 version. (It was revised in 1947.) Coming before the clashing Rite, it acted almost as a formal prelude, even though this was penned seven years later. One could not ask for a better performance than that with the confident LSO players, who gave it a glassy sheen.

Sometimes I feel like certain Boulez works are direct successors to Debussy, as if the latter composer had lived to be 150 years old. If so, he might have written Dérive 2, whose glistening clarity somewhat resembles Boulez’s Repóns, although the latter is much more complex with its electronic manipulation of sound. Scored for twelve players, Dérive 2 was written as an eightieth birthday tribute to Elliott Carter (who could be spotted in the audience), and is inspired by ideas of Carter, Ligeti, Nancarrow and even Beethoven, who (to cite Paul Griffiths’ always incisive notes) created “slow music that has a lot of rapid activity.” The surfaces of Dérive 2 are pulsing, constantly in motion, with each of the musicians surfacing in turn, before falling back into the ensemble. The performance here could not have been more crystalline, with the LSO’s terrific players offering cool-headed virtuosity.

Bruce Hodges



Back to the Top     Back to the Index Page





Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)