Marc Ponthus plays Boulez with authority

Boulez didn’t write much for solo piano. But what he lacked in quantity he certainly made up for in quality. This release contains all six of Boulez’s published solo piano works, and it makes for a fascinating program.

All three piano sonatas are included, of course. The 1948 Second Sonata’s probably the best known, and (I believe) the most difficult. Yet I heard none of that technical difficulty in Marc Ponthus’ playing. Ponthus clearly has a deep understanding of this work, and his interpretation helps clarify some of the denser passages.

According to the liner notes, Ponthus has performed a program pairing Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata with Boulez’s Second Sonata. And that makes sense. Boulez used the Hammerklavier as a starting point for his own composition. I’m sure knowing both works intimately informed Ponthus’ interpretation of the Boulez sonata.

Ponthus performs the published version of the Third Sonata, which includes two of the five formants, or movements, of the work, plus an incomplete version of a third. According to Ponthus, in order to get the effect Boulez wanted, he recorded with a second piano whose dampers he could control via a special foot pedal. The piano he played (with the lid off) affected the freely vibrating strings of the second, creating a subtle sound cloud of overtones.

Pontus worked with Boulez, discussed the performances of his music with the composer, and is fully invested in the realization of Boulez’s vision.

Make no mistake, this is foreground listening all the way and often difficult listening at that. But each playing can reveal something new to the careful listener.

Pierre Boulez: Compete Music for Solo Piano
Premiére Sonate, Deuxième Sonate, Troisième Sonata, Douze Notations, Incises, Une page d’éphéride
Marc Ponthus, piano
Bridge 9456A/B
2 CD set

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