Pierre Boulez / Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra

Arnold Schoenberg: Pelleas and Mélisande

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For this 2003 concert recording, Pierre Boulez and the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra performed two of the landmarks of liberated chromaticism: the Prelude to Act I of Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, and Arnold Schoenberg's ardent and ambiguously tonal symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande, which anticipated his later discovery of atonality. For the better part of his career, Boulez was a champion of modernism, both as a conductor and a composer, so it seemed puzzling to some listeners when he began recording late Romantic works in the 1990s, and widened his repertoire to include not only music by Mahler, but also Bruckner and Wagner. Yet this should have been expected, since these composers all loomed large in the thinking of Schoenberg, who, along with Webern, figured importantly in Boulez's development. The meat of this album is Pelleas, which is 40 minutes of unsettled progressions that rapidly move through all tonal regions, in much the same way as the music of Wagner's Prelude moves restlessly from one dissonance to the next without resolution. The pairing of these works is insightful, for even the most casual listener will be able to hear how these works relate to each other, and appreciate the yearning the orchestra puts into the performances. This emotional music may not seem like a comfortable fit for the famously unemotional and controlled Boulez, but the big surprise is that he brings off the scores with the compelling power and passion that they need, without a trace of detachment. Deutsche Grammophon's reproduction is clear and sonorous, and the live recording is as good as many studio efforts.

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