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 Recording of the Week  New Mahler 8 from Pierre Boulez

Mahler is one of my great passions, but I've always been hesitant to feature him in one of my editorials, as I'm very aware that he is the sort of composer you either love or hate, without much in between. But I want to mention him this week as a new Pierre Boulez recording of the Eighth Symphony raises some important issues. It is one of those recordings which is likely to split critics down the middle and it will get a mixture of very good and very bad reviews. Here is why...

Pierre Boulez
Pierre Boulez

Pierre Boulez sees himself primarily as a composer, not an interpreter. He only conducts music that interests him as a composer and as such his recorded output is very limited (dominated by Bartok, Stravinsky and Mahler). He clearly approaches conducting with a strong conviction to be faithful to the composers’ intentions, and views precision and clarity of structures as the primary ways of achieving this.

Such a clinical approach is perfect in the music of Bartok and Stravinsky but, because Mahler’s music is so outwardly expressive, Boulez’s interpretations are often considered cold and somewhat lacking in personal engagement. But then you have to offset that against the new things you hear in the orchestral textures precisely because everything is so clear. This combined with the quality of the DG recording engineers results in some really magical passages.

I should say now that I don't believe in the notion of ‘benchmark’ recordings - that there should be one recording of a work considered superior to others. I think many recordings have something new and valid to say and the new Boulez certainly has that.

Although I suppose I'd be hesitant to recommend it as the first recording of Mahler 8 you should buy, if you like your Mahler and want to be both challenged and enlightened then this is well worth hearing - and if you're still not sure you can listen to extracts first here (although I should warn you that DG have compressed them a bit too much so they don't sound anywhere near as good as they do on the CD).

Mahler: Symphony No. 8 in E flat major 'Symphony of a Thousand'

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC