Boulez Sur Incises & Anthemes II

Late Boulez, in all its facets, brilliantly encapsulated on this supremely well-performed and engineered disc

Author: 
Arnold Whittall

BOULEZ Sur Incises & Anthemes II

  • Sur Incises
  • Anthèmes 2
  • Messagesquisse

Combine three pianos and three harps with a range of metal percussion, and the result is like a single, magically enhanced keyboard, intensely resonant, but with the kind of incisive, cutting edge to the sound suggested by the title Sur Incises. Incises was a piano piece on which Boulez based this 37-minute work, composed between 1996 and 1998. It’s divided into two substantial movements or – as Boulez ironically titles them – ‘Moments’, implying that the immediate event, and the immediate context, matter more than the way events and contexts combine to create large-scale forms. Yet there’s unambiguous evidence of larger-scale shaping in the way the second ‘Moment’ offers a wider range of more broadly characterised material than the first, and it builds to a stunning climax in which boiling cascades of sound erupt volcanically, before the cooling and calming process through which Sur Incises ends.
This is a fine example of Boulez’s post-Repons idiom, which grows as much from the concerns of his very earliest compositions as from more recent preoccupations. Nevertheless, for all its richness, the range of tone colours in Sur Incises is narrower than in those later works which involve electroacoustics, and this dimension is represented here by the relatively small-scale Anthemes 2 of 1997. There’s a consistent intimacy about the interaction of the live violin and the electronics which culminates in a final section (tracks 13-15) notable for its light-hearted dialogue, involving arabesques and scales of a kind the younger Boulez would probably have shunned as unforgivably frivolous. Here the dialogue is part of the marvellously apt process of development by which the music finds ever more imaginative variations for its basic material.
This supremely well-performed and engineered disc is completed by the short ‘sketched message’ for seven cellos which Boulez wrote to celebrate Paul Sacher’s 70th birthday in 1976. The music brilliantly characterises those oppositions between refinement and ferocity which form the essence of Boulez’s distinctive style, and it adds further substance to what is certain to be one of the year’s outstanding contemporary music releases.'

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