Saturday, February 21, 2009


I've tried to write this review, and I can't.

When I first got the new Decca disc of Boulez leading the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Mozart's Serenade no. 10, KV 361, and Uchida and Tetzlaff in Berg's Chamber Concerto, I listened to it. I liked it, though I'll confess that I don't know nearly enough about Berg to really comment too authoritatively. I then listened to something else.

I got busy, so I forgot about the record. I remembered that I haven't been doing a very good job keeping TPW updated, so I picked it back up to review. Then Morrissey's Years of Refusal came out a few days back. I made my choice, and the Berg/Mozart disc wasn't it. À propos Morrissey: Don't believe the comparisons to Your Arsenal, but do check out the record.

So, what gives?

The record is boring. Boulez does his thing, and, if you like it (as I do), you'll like it here. His Mozart, better heard in a 1974 "Coronation" concerto with Sir Clifford Curzon, is competent – though it is a little light on that inner joy that one often finds in Mozart. The Berg is interesting, with Uchida and Tetzlaff in apparently solid form, but I usually return to Webern when I go to the land of the Second Viennese School. Truth be told, though, I will take Bruckner's 8th over the combined output of the Viennese gang at this point.

Boulez' recently mostly completed Mahler cycle (I doubt he's going to return to Das klagende Lied, which means that Sony should rerelease it) was interesting because Boulez had something to say about Mahler. There were some hits (the 6th), misses (the 5th), and releases that will please enthusiasts and no one else (the 2nd and 8th). Boulez is not the only person to adopt the lighter, precise approach to Mahler, but he has been a consistently interesting advocate for it. I should note that, in the concert hall, Mahler takes over the show – viz. that 2005 Vienna boot of the 2nd (not to mention my own experience).

I am somehow less sure that Boulez has anything terribly interesting to say about Mozart. What he has had to say about Berg is well known (on both Sony and DG). This release, then, became an exercise in technical prowess.

I made the right decision by sticking with Years of Refusal the last few days.


At 9:53 AM, Blogger Karl Henning said...

Near the opening of your post, you say you liked the Boulez disc. Has that held true?


At 2:01 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

Yeah. More or less. It's hard not to like KV 361, and the Berg is interesting.

The problem, and I should have put this in, is that, unlike really interesting discs, this one becomes sonic wallpaper pretty quickly.

I like it, but I don't engage with it on a deeper level.

At 3:58 AM, Blogger Gavin Plumley said...

Thanks for this very interesting post. I have to disagree... I don't think Boulez displays natural Mozartian tendencies, but the programming here is very revealing. The Mozart has a brittle, almost caustic demeanour when placed next to the Berg. The Berg gains the opposite effect, by seemingly increasingly delicate and classical... it is the most (if not the only) persuasive argument I have heard for thinking of the 'Second Viennese School' as a return to classicism. Uchida and Tetzlaff are sublime.

Boulez is one of those animals that sometimes colours the piece so much with his own thoughts that it's almost unrecognisable compared with other benchmark recordings. I wouldn't recommend this as a starting point for anyone coming to K361 or the Kammerkonzert first time, but it's certainly interesting listening.

Great blog...

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