This disc, featuring the opening concert at the Salzburg festival 2008, has a very familiar feel to it from the point of view of collectors. In it, both Boulez and Barenboim re-visit previous successes in so far as they collaborated together years ago in a very successful coupling of Bartok's piano concertos 1 & 3. Boulez on this recording also repeats an earlier DVD success with the Berlin Philharmonic as regards the Ravel and interestingly, the Firebird duplicates a rival DVD issue from the same year which he recorded with the Paris orchestra.
So how does this new release compare with these rival recordings especially bearing in mind Boulez's tendency not to deviate much from one performance to another as regards interpretation?
Not surprisingly therefore, with the exception of the Bartók, the new performances at this Salzburg Festival are very similar to the alternative performances as regards interpretations. There are considerable variations as regards the recordings though.
The Bartok concerto differs the most, largely because of Barenboim's input. This is a more weighty interpretation and in line with many of Barenboim's recent recordings. The earlier CD recording was made when he was a much younger man and was fleeter and rhythmically more incisive. The new recording makes the concerto appear to be more acerbic and less athletic. The lyrical aspects of the concerto, which are not many, are less obvious here. The accompaniment by Boulez is as attentive as before and overall this is a satisfying performance but rather uncompromising in its toughness. The recording is fuller than the earlier excellent EMI audio-only issue.
The Ravel Valses open the concert and these receive a typically cool interpretation from Boulez and this suits the music very well. The playing by the VPO is immaculate and is more than a match for the earlier BPO European concert on DVD. The recording is far superior however as the earlier BPO concert was hampered by the resonant acoustics of the chosen concert venue.
The Stravinsky Firebird concludes this concert and is almost identical to the Paris concert on DVD from the same year. However, there the similarities end as this Salzburg performance has a far superior recording of far greater range and which shows off the qualities and skills of the VPO to almost startling effect at times. This recording provides DTS 5.1 surround as well as stereo whereas the Paris performance is in digital 5.0 surround and stereo. The difference in the surround sound option is striking in terms of realism to the considerable advantage of this Salzburg concert.
This is a fine recording of a fine concert and the whole is very well played. Boulez provides a sure, but cool, guide through this repertoire and admirers of his style will be very satisfied as will admirers of Barenboim's current and weightier performing style. If this program and artistes appeal, I would expect purchasers to be well rewarded. For these reasons and in my own opinion, I see little justification in denying the full 5 stars. The Firebird, for me, is almost worth the price of the disc alone!