Messiaen Et Expecto Resurrectionem

Author: 
Arnold Whittall

Messiaen Et Expecto Resurrectionem

  • Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum
  • Couleurs de la cité céleste
  • Symphonies of Wind Instruments
  • (A) Symphony of Three Orchestras
  • Déserts
  • Ecuatorial
  • Hyperprism

Sony Classical have been remastering Boulez’s CBS recordings for some time – a Varese disc appeared six years ago (10/90) – but the pace has accelerated during and since the composer’s seventieth birthday year. As medium-price reissues, they are not in direct competition with Boulez’s later recordings for Erato and DG, but comparisons between earlier and more recent versions will always be a fascinating exercise, and never more so than where Boulez’s own music is concerned.
Will Boulez record Pli selon pli a third time with one of his currently preferred American orchestras in Chicago or Cleveland? As his longest complete composition to date, this ‘portrait of Mallarme’ seems more and more like a definitive testament to that peculiarly French kind of expressionism which Boulez has made his own, and it is already 15 years since his second recording, with Phyllis Bryn-Julson and the BBC SO, indicated a more expansive approach to its intricately woven textures, and to the tensions and balances that can be found between its strongly contrasted movements. The earlier CBS/Sony version, now reissued on CD for the first time, has a special historical status as embodying the composer’s view of the work near the time of its actual completion, when forcefulness, and even ferocity, seemed to count for more as foils to the music’s moments of relative restraint than the sustained densities so strongly emphasized in the second recording. Even if you have the later disc, this one is of great significance, and its value is enhanced by the addition of the potently expressive Livre pour cordes. This is only a part of what Boulez intends as a complete recasting of his youthful work for string quartet, and, as it happens, the first of the two movements we hear in this recording was superseded in 1989 by another reworking, as yet unrecorded. Such are the delights and frustrations of the Boulez project: fortunately he has not forbidden reissue of this initial and far from negligible version of Livre.
Boulez’s way with Stravinsky is not well represented by a rather detached, determinedly un-balletic account of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments; it comes into focus only at around 5'30'' of its 9'30'' duration, which is simply too late. The Messiaen performances on the same disc are not ideal, either, if only for their sonic limitations. Boulez has recently conducted a digitally resplendent Et exspecto, together with Chronochromie and La ville d’en haut, in Cleveland (DG, 4/95), and a version of Couleurs de la cite celeste from the same stable would also be welcome. This one suffers from a lack of dynamic contrast, even though the remastering has sharpened up the colours and resonances of the metal percussion. Boulez’s two other extant versions of Couleurs, both with Yvonne Loriod, were made at public concerts in less than ideal acoustic circumstances (Erato, 4/89 – nla; Disques Montaigne, 8/89).
The third disc’s combination of Carter and Varese suggests an American theme, but the effect is to highlight the contrasts between one of Carter’s most richly differentiated and eloquent orchestral canvases, carefully prepared yet powerfully projected in this performance, and Varese’s much more elemental constructions. Boulez is a fine advocate of the take-it-or-leave-it radicalism of the French-born iconoclast, though Deserts is given, as the score permits, shorn of its three inserts of ‘organized sound’ on tape. The effect is to mute the unregenerate primitiveness of the original: for once, perhaps, Boulez’s aural sensibilities as a composer overrode his responsibilities as an interpreter? Even so, he cannot be accused of emasculating either Ecuatorial or Hyperprism, which are dispatched with an authentically brash boldness.'

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