Boulez/Chicago: ewige Macht
This past Friday, I made my annual pilgrimage to Orchestra Hall to see Pierre Boulez conduct Mahler's 7th with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As I learned with the live bootleg of Mahler's 2nd from Vienna and the DGG recording with the same forces, he is a different animal in the concert hall. That is not to say that he was anyone except Pierre Boulez. Spry would understate his condition. For an 81-year-old man, he acted like someone in middle age. It was clear, unlike the advanced Von Karajan, that there would be no nodding-off or phoning-in. Boulez was in control, and there are few "instruments" that would benefit from his absolute command like the CSO.
Boulez cut the 7th for his ongoing Mahler cycle with Cleveland, another virtuoso band. To a certain extent, I would say that the two readings are the same. In Chicago, like Cleveland, he decided not to get caught up in Mahler's orchestration; rather, he exposed all the various strands of the symphony and revealed how this elusive monster works. To my mind, the 7th is Mahler's most difficult (a judgment which I am sure that I will change at some point) work. Unlike some of his more overtly programmatic symphonies, or the easier ones - like the 1st and 4th - the 7th is Mahler at his most abstract and theoretical. Boulez is nothing if not a theoretician - in his rhetoric, composing, and conducting style.
Clearly, Boulez has a distinct view of the 7th, and that view fits the work. The final movement, the Rondo: Finale was as bright and powerful as the Sonnenaufgang from Zarathustra, something that Mahler would have no doubt had in mind. I think (or, I suppose, I hope). Boulez, despite his reputation for icy style, can really let loose and show any critic that it is possible to be both thrilling and correct. This was indeed an interesting performance. His style, simple - using only his hands - and commanding, really makes it clear that he has digested the score. Like him, love him, or hate him - he makes his views known and he backs his interpretation up with solid musicianship.
Hats off, once again, to the CSO brass. They, neither this year nor last for Barenboim's 5th, are not as aggressive as they were under Solti; however, they make it clear that they can match anyone beat-for-beat. I suppose that I have cemented my reputation as the leading fanboy for Pierre Boulez in the blogosphere, such as I have any reputation in the blogosphere, but this performance was really splendid. His four or five curtain calls, to a standing ovation, seem to indicate that my colleagues agreed.
Here is the Chicago Tribune's review, glowing - as expected for the hometown band and a local favorite - but still useful.