Written in the mid-1980s, R？pons represents Pierre Boulez's first major work after his controversial tenure conducting the New York Philharmonic. It's also a demonstration of how live instruments could be used in conjunction with computer-generated sound. He's been strangely hesitant to record it, which is even more mystifying the more one listens to this new DG release. It's one of the longest uninterrupted spans of music Boulez has ever composed. And while not as provocative as some of his early works, it's a marvel, a forest of sound that one wants to return to again and again.
The live instruments (which include a Hungarian cimbalom) are dominated by richly textured percussion, which doesn't exactly make R？pons unmelodic as beyond melody. Initially, the effects seem repetitive--alternating activity and stasis--but what later unfolds is a rich, gratifying, thematically unified exploration of sound with a meticulously planned exposition, development, and recapitulation. The companion piece, Dialogue de l'ombre double, is more modest and in some ways more charming, exploring spatial effects and pedal points between the live and computerized clarinet sound. Those interested in the future of music--both in terms of means and content--must hear this. --David Patrick Stearns