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Boulez - sea life and nakedness.
on 7 April 2012
Bruckner's Eighth is a vast, symphonic ocean whose depths contain all manner of life, colour, shape and form. The superstitious nature of our seafaring forefathers coined the phrase "here be monsters" and there are many untold mysteries to be unlocked within the unfathomable depths of Anton Bruckner's colossus. However, all too often Boulez seems content to stand on the beach and skim stones across the surface of the water, without so much as getting his feet wet. Boulez's temperamental antipathy towards excessive emotionalism, his cool, clinical, analytical attention to detail gives a picture of high definition-like clarity, but lacking in rich vibrant colour. This is a black and white Eighth which lacks the contrast, subtle shading and sheer three-dimensionality of the best performances/recordings. Karajan's recordings of the Eighth - all of them - are positively teeming with life - panoramic displays of coral reef-like diversity and colour. In contrast, Boulez's recording reminds one of those dead, skeletal, colourless reefs blighted by pollution, that are all too common nowadays.
Boulez fails to make this Bruckner performance sing with a distinctive/authentic or indeed authoritative voice. There is much posturing, posing and preening - Bruckner's spirit has left the building - this structurally superficial, hollow, empty shell rests upon the foundations of a once vast, towering and mighty Gothic cathedral which now sees risen in its place some 21st Century, chrome, concrete and glass monstrosity/impostor undermining the cultural heritage/magnificence, traditions and values of a more noble age. Sterile, functional and devoid of spiritual exaltation... the "emperor without his clothes" or "Le marteau sans maitre"... well, this hammer/baton certainly needs a master who can hit Brucknerian nails on the head accurately and with some conviction. Boulez's hammer is plastic and it shatters on the granite-like structure of Bruckner's Eighth - he fails to convince, I'm afraid.
The Vienna Philharmonic is the real star of this performance - silken, sumptuous strings, noble toned horns whose antiphonal effects countering the rest of the brass are splendid and the Vienna brass in full cry is tremendously exciting. However, a magnificent orchestra, such as the VPO, demands the attention of a conductor who is spiritually and intellectually at one with the orchestra and whose implicit understanding of both the orchestra and the music they perform together results in justice being done to great works of art. Herbert von Karajan, the VPO and Anton Bruckner's Eighth Symphony - the perfect synthesis - incandescent, peerless and FULLY clothed, achieves a standard of performance which Boulez and the same forces fail to match, on any level!
Boulez's Bruckner Eight has, for this listener, sunk without trace. But I expect that Davy Jones' locker is now a more musical place - at least it's inaudible to this landlubber!