Boulez Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna; Notations
You don’t often hear recordings of Boulez’s music under someone else’s direction. Among the significant exceptions are two of the works recorded here: Claudio Abbado has recorded the Notations, and Daniel Barenboim has given us both the Notations and Rituel. More recently still, Barenboim has returned to the Notations, including the first recording of No 7. Both are superseded by this new arrival, which boasts better production values, and more searching interpretations.
For Rituel the point of comparison remains Boulez’s own recording with the BBC Symphony. Despite the advance in recording quality the older version still holds its own: the body of brass that forms the ensemble’s eighth group sounds compact and opaque, a palpable presence. Under David Robertson it is more agile and lightly sprung, yet his is the longer reading, probably because the choice of tempo at the start is perceptibly slower. At first hearing I preferred Boulez’s version, but over several days Robertson’s clarity and unhurried ease has won me over: the increasingly complex percussion interventions are marvellously lucid and variegated, and dynamic contrasts are perhaps more telling than under Boulez. The composer’s reading remains irreplaceable, of course, but this new version is every bit as involving.
Robertson’s lightness of touch is in evidence in the remainder of the programme, and in the Notations there is even a certain impish humour. The most recent, No 7, is by some margin the most expansive. Although humour may not be a striking feature of Figures-Doubles-Prismes, once again delicacy of texture and a certain dance-like springiness make this as engaging a performance as Boulez’s own.