SWR Baden-Baden and Freiburg Symphony Orchestra
"Polyphonie X", for 18 instrumental soloists, composed in 1951 (withdrawn).
"Poe'sie Pour Pouvoir", for orchestra and tape, composed in 1958 (withdrawn).
"Tombeau", for soprano and orchestra, composed in 1959, was revised several times then included in the major work "Pli Selon Pli".
"Structures, Livre II", for 2 pianos, composed in 1956-61.
Recordings: October 1951/58/59/61, World Premieres, Donaueschinger Musiktage
Pierre Boulez (b. 1925) arguably is the greatest advocate of modernism the music world has ever seen. He studied under Olivier Messiaen who already had advanced serial techniques beyond the ideas of Schoenberg and Webern. Only Stockhausen would take them further. The works on this disc contain some of Boulez's best serial writing. Polyphonie X (1951) is an engaging work for 18 solo instruments whose assertions are framed in small yet distinct sound clusters, a strategy that actually prevents the work from devolving into a mishmash of sheer noise. There is no real tonality here (some would argue that this isn't even music), just isolated sonic ideas. But at 16 minutes, Polyphonie X doesn't wear out its welcome. According to the liner notes, Boulez withdrew both Polyphonie X and Poesie pour pouvoir (1958) after their premieres. Why Boulez pulled them is anyone's guess, because even after all this time, and especially as revealed in these stunning performances, they still appear lucid and vital. The recording also reminds us of the uniqueness of a work such as Poesie pour pouvoir, with its tape-recorded voice played back with considerable distortion, made all the more spooky by the addition of electronic sounds. Boulez's Tombeau a la memoire du Prince Max Egon zu Furstenberg employs standard serial techniques in a small ensemble, but with a soprano (coloratura) added to the mix. The longest work here, and the one reproduced in the best sound, is Structures II, written for two pianos - more than competently played by Boulez and Yvonne Loriod. No one can deny the intellectual integrity of these works, however it's this very intellectualism and the experimental/avant-garde characteristics of Boulez's music that makes it difficult both to perform and to appreciate as a listener. Naturally, this limits its appeal to a relatively small audience. Those people - students of advanced serialism, Boulez fans, and the curious looking for a new adventure - will certainly want to give this disc a careful listen.