Admit it. The first time you heard that Pierre Boulez had recorded Bruckner’s Eighth, you laughed. How could you not? The only thing more ridiculous than Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the high priest of authentically autistic performance practice, conducting the authentically ecstatic music of Bruckner is Pierre Boulez, the high priest of excruciatingly objective cerebral modernism, conducting the profoundly subjective spiritual music of Bruckner. The question was: would Boulez conduct the mighty and majestic Eighth as an exercise in counterpoint or a musical meditation on the numinous? You had to ask? Of course, Boulez does what he always does: he plays it straight. If the Eighth were only a superbly composed piece of music, that would be enough, because Boulez leads the Vienna Philharmonic in a thoroughly lucid performance of Bruckner’s score. Not only does Boulez hear everything in the score, he lets the listener hear everything in the score. But nowhere does the listener hear more than is in the score because Boulez’s objectivity cannot imagine the immensity beyond the score, the immensity that Bruckner heard and which a great performance forces the listener to confront. Although the Vienna Philharmonic plays with great beauty of tone and Deutsche Grammophon’s live digital sound from Bruckner’s St. Florian in Linz is awe-inspiring, Boulez is only conducting the notes. The numinous immensity beyond the notes is silent.
This review is so fiesty and I only have the merest grasp of the particulars! This is what it’s like to look at reviews of comics, movies, television shows, etc. as an outsider. They seem to be drawings in the wind. But I’m also really curious to listen now.