> Daniel Barenboim: Boulez - Debussy - de Falla [PQ]: Classical DVD Reviews- June2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Pierre BOULEZ (born 1925)
Notations I-IV

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

La Mer

Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)

The Three-Cornered Hat

Elisabéte Matos (mezzo-soprano)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim (conductor)
Recorded live at the Kölner Philharmonie, 27-28 April 2000


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The obvious advantage of DVD with a work as dense as Notations I-IV is its capacity to help the listener pick out individual threads of texture, but the necessary concomitant of a sound quality to match the pin-sharp visuals is not met here. Focusing on the first desk of the first violins as they twitter elegant trills near the start of Notation II is not much use if you can’t hear what they’re playing; leader Samuel Magad could be playing Ying-tong iddle I po for all I can tell. The sound is selectively detailed, with percussion and bassoon emerging vividly and this suggests poor microphone placement rather than bad engineering.

You can hear enough to enjoy an elegant, almost nonchalant performance of the Notations which rather underplays their moment-to-moment switches of harmony and texture. They have almost become a ‘20th Century Classic’ now, and I’m not sure that the status is good for them. Barenboim plays them in the unusual order of 1-2-3-4; the composer, Rattle and others switch 2 and 3 so that slow and fast pieces alternate. Not only does this tactic give rest to the listener’s ear with the cool sensuousness of no.2 but it accentuates the thrilling staircase of motifs that rises through no.4 until its almighty final crash.

La mer is similarly detailed, sensitively played and lacking idiom. De l’aude à midi sur la mer rocks becomingly but the tempo changes and hesitations are just too obvious to be ardent. Dialogue du vent et de la mer’s cheesy tune is resplendent enough but there’s too little excitement generated prior to the peroration to generate cumulative satisfaction.

That comes with an affectionate treatment of the dancing Baroqueries in Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat, to which Elisabéte Matos contributes assertively. Danza del corregidor has a rather heavy tread, though its pulse is always maintained and Barenboim keeps the textures light enough to highlight some superbly characterful solos. His grunting, however, can’t quite keep the orchestra together at one or two points in the fiendish cross rhythms of the final Jota. Fans of the classic version by Ansermet may well be turned off by Barenboim’s comparative lack of rhythmic bite and rounder-edged orchestral sound, but I found his evident enjoyment of the music infectious. He also pitches it at just the right level, halfway between local fun and Stravinskian edginess.

The encore? Spanish fluff. The filler? No filler but a display of intellectual fireworks from Pierre Boulez, with Barenboim as a slightly otiose interlocutor. Its 10-minute duration is tantalisingly brief and yet within that time Boulez throws off enough insightful observations and reflections to provide food for thought for hours. Did you know – would you expect? – that, ‘like all the French’, the Wagner Boulez is most immediately attracted to is Tristan and Meistersinger? Given his exclusive association until very recently (when he has programmed the Prelude and Liebestod in concert) with Parsifal and the Ring, it seems extraordinary. Boulez wears his years lightly in spry intellect and appearance; by contrast Barenboim appears prematurely aged. ‘We have to be aware of the past but we must not be prisoners of the past’, concludes Boulez, and he appears to have learnt from his words better than any of his contemporaries.

Peter Quantrill

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