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Pierre Boulez - Works For Voice And Orchestra

Boulez: Works For Voice And Orchestra
Boulez’s two “cantatas”, Le visage nuptial and Le soleil des eaux, are amongst his finest and most accessible works. Both originally date from the late 1940s, both are written for solo female vocalist(s), choir and orchestra, both set poetry by René Char, and both underwent interminable revisions before achieving their definitive form – Le visage, in particular, took a staggering four decades to complete, growing in the process from a modest and somewhat dry chamber work to the gloriously technicolour final version. Both show Boulez at his most musically self-indulgent, capturing the essence of Char’s erotic-surreal texts in music of langorous sensuality which casts more than a passing glance in the direction of earlier French masters Debussy and Messiaen.

Boulez’s most ambitious vocal work, Pli selon pli (“Fold by Fold”), setting poems by Mallarmé, was written in 1957–62, with the inevitable later revisions. The three central movements comprise a set of “improvisations” in which Mallarmé’s recondite poems are gradually dismantled into their constituent images, and are flanked by two outer movements for much larger ensemble in which the voice is only fleetingly present. Arguably the definitive Boulez piece, the work’s fantastically sculpted vocal lines, ringing percussion sonorities and outbursts of propulsive energy exude a quality of hypnotic stasis, and capture his style at its most typical.

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Pli Selon Pli; Le Visage Nuptial; Le Soleil des Eaux; Figures, Doubles, Prismes; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Ensemble Intercontemporain; Boulez; Bryn-Julson; Laurence (Erato 2CDs).

This 2-CD set offers the perfect introduction to Boulez’s music, beautifully conducted by the composer himself and with the excellent Phyllis Bryn-Julson, perhaps the finest of his vocal interpreters, the soloist in all three works (joined by mezzo Elizabeth Laurence in Le Visage). The 1958 orchestral piece Figures, Doubles, Prismes makes an interesting accompaniment – listen out for the wonderful, Berg-inspired string writing of its conclusion.
Sheet Music by Boulez