In his recordings of various artists’ song cycles,Boulez,it
seems,often has been inspired to producing some of his most profound
His classic recordings of the little performed songs of Ravel,
Schoenberg, and Berg still remain the yardstick by which all others
are measured.
Now, comes his arrival of three Mahler lieder and the results are
something to celebrate.
Indeed, this may prove to be his best Mahler yet.
In the Ruckert Lieder, Boulez coaxes both the Viennal Players and
Violeta Urmana into producing sensuous sounds and colors which could
come straight out the most transparent Klimt paintings.
It’s my personal favorite of the three, but that opinion is already
biased, as I have a definite soft spot for this piece.
Thomas Quasthoff is appropriately noble in the Lieder eines fahrenden
Gesellen and Anne-Sofie von Otter has arguably never been more
profund than in the Kindentotenlieder found here.
Boulez proves here that he’s far more than ‘just’ a musical
intellect, he also has acute rhythmic instinct.
Each singer is perfectly cast, the sound is superb and Boulez’s
conducting is among his most crystal clear and lucid to date.
Like his other song cycles, this should prove to be a
genuine ‘classic’.


This is a highly theatrical Mahler 2nd,not theatrical in the narrative sense, but something more akin to the theatricality found in Oskar Schlemmer’s “Triadische Ballet”.

Boulez’s vision of the “Resurrection” seems more conceptual performance art than opera house minded. This is a resurrection imbued with cubist light (think Georges Braque’s ‘Candlestick”, his lighthouse from “Harbor in Normandy” or the cool light colors found in Schlemmer’s “Four Figures and Cube”.

I was reminded much of the (often surreal) gnostic preoccupation with light and while this may not be a hardcore believer’s orthodox “Resurrection”, it certainly springs from a uniquely individualistic perspective.

Those wanting a full throttled, operatic, goose bump inducing “Resurrection” should be steered towards Leonard Bernstein’s let you hair down Sony recording with New York.

Personally, I want them both.


This is a much recorded work, yet Boulez has something to add.

Some reviewers have claimed this is Boulez’s most ‘traditional’ performance of Mahler’s works and point to the pretty standard length of the famous adagietto as evidence.

I disagree.

Boulez’s approach to Mahler (like his Wagner) has been strongly Debussian from the beginning, and this fifth is one of the most pointedly Debussian, for this is not the stereotypical approach of hazy impressionism, but the diaphanous prism of ‘Jeux”.

For, the most part, Mahler shed his Wunderhorn skin with this pivotal work and so too does Boulez divorce the work from the nostalgic associations it has since acquired (Kennedy’s funeral, “Death in Venice”), yet he doesn’t jump the gun towards an easily predictable, superficial route to clarify his point. He savors the adagietto as an unraveling composition in it’s own right, drawing out every nuanced color,yet without over sentimentality.

Boulez yields supreme control over the whole canvas and there is elegance aplenty.
This is a challenging performance and, upon repeated listening, yields many surprises and rewards.

* My take on the Boulez Mahler lieder from a 2005 Fringe post. 5 years later, it is still the one I always pull out. Posting it here, along with my take on Boulez’s M2,  and M5 (strangely, I never wrote on his M7, possibly his most idiosyncratic Mahler and, therefore, my favorite).  DG will be releasing Boulez’ adagio from the M10, later this year (You have to give it to Boulez, he has never accepted the Cooke addition as valid and still refuses to conduct it, regardless of how popular it has become. His Sony recording of the M10 adagio was once described as having the quality of steel and I agree).

Of course, DG will undoubtedly release that with a coupling and I am hoping they do so with Boulez’s Bruckner 7th or 9th, both of which he has performed in Chicago. Boulez’s DG recording of the Bruckner 8th stunned many, myself included.

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