Pierre Boulez at 90, Barbican, review: A brilliant total immersion day


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The Independent Culture

‘Who is Pierre Boulez’ was the title of a brilliantly illuminating film made by Roger Graef in 1968. Screened to kick off the Barbican’s ‘total immersion’ day, with concerts by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Pablo Rus Broseta and Thierry Fischer, that question got a clear answer.

A revolutionary with Leninist leanings, of course, but at the same time a romantic, an aural voluptuary - though these tendencies did not surface immediately.

Stunningly played by Jean-Frederic Neuberger, ‘Piano Sonata No 2’, written when the composer was 23, crackled with iconoclastic rage as the traditions Boulez had grown up with were exploded into infinitesimal fragments.

But in ‘Eclats’ the explosions implicit in the title were presented with a translucent tenderness; the ‘Notations’ at which Boulez has laboured most of his life emerged with muscular exuberance and harp-impregnated warmth.

And with Pli selon pli we got the full measure of the ‘organised delirium’ which was his goal, as the Mallarmé poems of which this great work was the setting had their sense put through the mangle, but their spirit gloriously celebrated.

Yeree Suh took a while to get the measure of the acoustic, but when she did, the blend between her pure, leaping soprano and the timbres of plucked, bowed, and struck instruments created worlds of exquisitely sensuous enchantment.