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Marc Ponthus focuses on Boulez’s early career: most of his solo keyboard output was written during his twenties, his most radical phase as composer. The results remain some of the most challenging in the piano repertoire. Summits are complemented by lower peaks; the most accessible of them, the aphoristic Notations from 1945, show the clearest links with the tradition of French pianism. These shorter works are like bookends: after a long period of piano silence, came Incises from 1994 – Pontus plays the expanded 2001 version, with its opposition of strict and free time – and a brief coda, Une page d’ephéméride (2005).

If the short pieces connect with French pianism, the longer works are in another French tradition (or anti-tradition): the French Revolutionary zeal for a cultural year zero. It’s a characteristic programme for the uncompromising avant-gardist Marc Ponthus, who in 2004 recorded Xenakis’ complete piano music for Neuma Records.

Ponthus scales the Himalayan peaks of the Second Sonata (1947-8), expressing its raging violence without ever losing control. He well understands the composer’s description of the piano as the ‘instrument of frenzy par excellence’. In the unfinished or work-in-progress Third Sonata (1955-57), the pianist must spontaneously choose its ordering – an ‘open form’ reprised in Structures, and a response to John Cage. To reiterate my comments in Boulez’s obituary (IP Mar/Apr, p12), although these earlier piano works have received multiple recordings, they require a remarkable interpreter to convey conviction, and are best heard live. Marc Ponthus is one such interpreter, although on disc at least, the results are gruelling for the listener.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing