Ensemble Orchestral Contemporain, Boulez: Dérives 1 & 2 – Mémorial

Seth Colter Walls

By Seth Colter Walls

on 06.20.11 in Reviews

For a certain type of “modern classical” fan, this disc emerged as one of the earliest (pleasant) surprises of 2012. After starting out as a miniature in the 1980s, and then being recorded by the composer himself in a 25-minute “revised edition” circa 2005, a Boulez fan could be forgiven for thinking that all the tinkering on “Derive II” had been completed.

The biggest single drop of new Boulez orchestral music in many years

Not so. For here we have Daniel Kawka and the Ensemble Orchestral Contemporain with a version of “Derive II” that stretches over 50 minutes in length — the biggest single drop of new Boulez orchestral music in many years. (According to the composer, he’s otherwise been busy orchestrating his early “Notations” for solo piano, a few of which dribble out in recordings every so often.)

So what’s in there? Some ravishing writing for woodwinds, for starters — contrapuntal lines for bassoon, oboe and clarinet abound here. There are even flecks of insouciance you’d almost call jazzy, if not for the cold-water-dumping icy quality of the piano part (which harkens back to some of those original “Notations”).

New Yorkers heard this new version of Derive II during the maestro’s 85th birthday concert, in 2010. At the local premiere performance, I wasn’t convinced of the structural necessity of opening up “Derive II” in this way, but Kawka’s command of the newly conceived piece has made me into a convert. By turns harsh and lush, it’s required listening for any Boulez devotee, and possibly also for other kinds of classical fans who don’t regard themselves as anything of the sort.