His Mahler recordings, begun in the mid-1990s and presented complete in this 14-CD set, are among his most illuminating confrontations with the music of the past. A composer linked inextricably with modernism, Boulez's inclination is toward clarity, texture, and structure. Among the revelatory aspects of these recordings are the slower tempos he often chooses, allowing little-noticed aspects of the music -- a pungent dissonance, a peculiar instrumental color -- to emerge. Other conductors have done this, with varying levels of success, but few can challenge Boulez's ability to unearth these hidden features without losing sight of a movement's larger form. No performance demonstrates this better than the Seventh Symphony, from which he drew so much inner detail that it will permanently alter the way one hears the piece . . . There's a light, transparent feel to the First and Fourth symphonies, and Boulez is able to draw deep, heartfelt intensity in the Third and Ninth. He's even able to make the unruly Eighth Symphony sound surprisingly well ordered. Perhaps the biggest surprise is how effectively Boulez captures the nostalgic character of the settings of "Des Knaben Wunderhorn." A CD of songs includes the "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen" cycle, sung with unstinting ardor by the great baritone Thomas Quasthoff . . . It's a marvelous reminder of his artistry at its peak. Finally, it should also be noted that one thing is consistent across the entire set: the marvelous playing that the conductor elicits from four ensembles -- the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Berlin Staatskapelle.

These performances are superbly balanced and almost always well paced. Primarily, Boulez's sense of structure is unerring, in symphonies that are longer and more episodic than most. His level of concentration never falters . . . all four orchestras play brilliantly for him. He is also blessed with the finest Mahler singers of their generation: Banse's sweet soprano in No. 4, de Young and Schäfer perfectly balanced in the Second, Von Otter searching and also at her vocal peak in the Third and the "Kindertotenlieder". By concentrating exclusively on the composer's many tempo indications and dynamics -- nothing more nor less -- Boulez conveys the essential grandeur of the "Symphony of a Thousand" (No. 8) in a stunningly recorded performance with the Berlin Staatskapelle . . . The conductor's detachment serves to emphasize the Chinese origin of the poems in "Das Lied von der Erde", in a highly successful performance with the Vienna Philharmonic, exquisitely sung by the comparatively light-voiced Schade and Urmana . . . Again, the pointillist delicacy of Mahler's scoring has never been more telling . . . ["Des Knaben Wunderhorn"]: impeccably sung by Gerhaher and Kozená . . . this traversal is greater than the sum of its parts. Primarily, it is an intensely musical experience . . . Music making of this caliber belongs in the Hall of Fame without question.

. . . Boulez has one of the most significant recorded legacies of the past half-century, which includes a number of works no one else has ever recorded. He set new standards for accuracy and clarity in orchestral playing, particularly in his recordings of Debussy, Stravinsky and the composers of the second Viennese school, Schoenberg, Webern and Berg . . . ["Pierre Boulez Le Domaine Musical 1956 ¿ 1967" CD]: there's a pioneering spirit evident in the performances, and the discs have considerable historical significance . . . And there's Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony Op. 9 in a performance from 1964 that tears along . . . the performance is incredibly exciting . . . ["Pierre Boulez - 20th Century" CD]: Boulez's discs of Mahler symphonies and songs are, for me, his most important achievement with DG . . . These are the symphonies of a proto-modernist. There's no sentimentality here and barely a whiff of old Vienna, unless Mahler has written it into his score . . . ["Boulez conducts Mahler" CD]: The Mahler symphonies are available in their own box, and they represent hours of fascination and, even if you know them, the thrill of discovery.

. . . [une] odyssée irrésistible . . . Le cycle entier prend valeur de miroir artistique d'autant plus captivant s'agissant d'un chef compositeur parmi les plus cultivés et les plus affûtés de notre époque . . . [une] intégrale magicienne . . . La baguette claire, équilibrée, volontiers cérébrale, est d'une fièvre maîtrisée et d'une élégance arachnénenne superlative, autant dire que malgré la diversité des orchestres américains (Chicago, Cleveland) et européens (Staatskapelle de Berlin) le maestro suit sa route d'une évidente cohérence, un legs qui frappe par sa maturité, son assise, sa vision très architecturée et finement articulée, ce dès la Titan . . . la perfection de sa métrique, la subtilité de sa gestion agogique : la science et une pudeur spécifique, --retenue et mesure aspirant à la lumière --, dialoguent irrésistiblement avec le "bavardage mahlérien" ; osons même dire que Pierre Boulez lui apporte une rigueur, une concision et une intensité rares qui évitent bien souvent le déballage expansif de la confession a voce sola. Le souffle que le maestro insuffle à l'ensemble de l'épopée mahlérienne force l'admiration. Intégrale événement.

Intégrale à réévaluer . . . tout est de premier ordre. Mystérieux autant qu'incisif, Boulez réussit étonnamment les symphonies vocales et chorales . . . Sa direction acérée, analytique, refuse tout excès spectaculaire . . .