Since this issue is on the Accentus label, I had mistakenly purchased it with the hopes of replacing my Abbado/LFO Mahler 6 dvd, which I just don't like that much from a purely interpretive standpoint. While I was disappointed to open CDs instead, this is still a fairly interesting release. None of it, however, will be earth shaking news for those already familiar with Boulez's work in Webern, Stravinsky and Mahler 6. Let's start with the Mahler.
Given that you can still pick up Boulez's very fine Vienna Phil. Mahler 6 for much less money (DG), it makes little or no sense to purchase this one. However, the Andante and finale are both a full minute faster here than on the Vienna release. If you're at all familiar with Boulez's 'live' Mahler 6 from the 1970's with the BBC Symphony, this one is far closer to it. This makes Boulez's 'interpretation' of Mahler 6 a bit unusual in that he still takes over 23 minutes for the first movement, but then does the last two movements around 13 and 28 minutes respectively. The scherzo is fairly normal at just over 12 minutes (Boulez tends to unify tempi within the scherzo movement). If this sounds too hasty for the slow movement, consider that Mahler's marking is "Andante Moderato", and that the word "langsam" (slow) doesn't appear even once in the score (by way of comparison, "sehr langsam" is plastered all over the famous Adagietto movement of Mahler's 5th symphony). Granted, the orchestral execution isn't the cleanest or most tidy you've ever heard. But what these young musicians lack in experience and polish, they easily make up for with youthful exuberance and a desire to please. Some moments in the finale sound positively on fire.
I had always thought that Alban Berg had one of the greatest "Opus 1" works ever with his Piano Sonata. But after hearing this performance of the Webern "Passacaglia", I'm now convinced that Anton Webern's auspicious start was every bit as great. In fact, comparison with Boulez's own Berlin Phil. recording of the same Webern works is quite interesting, as the L.F. Academy players bring more romantic fire and expression to the Passacaglia than the more reserved Berliners do. Conversely, the extreme poise and polish the Berliners bring to any table is very much a plus in the even more terse "Variations for Orchestra", Op. 30. It would be interesting to hear what these same kids could have done with Webern's better known "Six Pieces for Orchestra". Still, the Passacaglia was an eye opener for me.
The "Poeme Symphonique" extracted from Stravinsky's "Song of the Nightingale" (Le Chant du Rossignol) has been a Boulez staple from the start. Given that the work completely dies out after such a colorful and rowdy start, I've never been convinced of it as a vehicle for promoting interest in Stravinsky's amazing one-act opera. But this performance is easily as good as any that Boulez has already recorded. At the beginning, sparks fly and the spectrum of colors is a joy to behold. Unfortunately, the almost dour ending makes little sense without the vocals.
In spite of the youthful and sometimes athletic performances given here, I would still only recommend this for Boulez 'complete-ists', or as a souvenir of the Lucerne Festival Academy Orch. in concert. However, Mahler 6 die-hards with cash to burn may want to check out Boulez's more radical take on the work.
The sound quality is good but certainly not first rate either