- Totenfeier, symphonic poem in C minor
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Between 1994 and 2011, Pierre Boulez recorded the symphonies and songs of Gustav Mahler for Deutsche Grammophon, and for many listeners these recordings are high points in his catalog, while others regard them as idiosyncratic recordings for specialists. The basis of both views stems from Boulez's meticulous conducting and exacting performance standards, which produce music of extreme lucidity and precision, yet which can also seem overly cerebral and dispassionate. Boulez's approach to Mahler may seem clinical, and this is a reasonable assessment of the way he treats details, textures, timbres, dynamics, and rhythms as indicated in the score, clearly and cleanly, without adding personal touches or interpreting the music through Mahler's biography or his own mythology. In short, Boulez goes back to what Mahler actually wrote and avoids the distortions of post-Romantic tradition and the exaggerated choices of superstar conductors. If this means Boulez is out of the mainstream of, say, Leonard Bernstein, Georg Solti, or Herbert von Karajan, his zeal for exactitude is often matched by his contemporaries, Claudio Abbado, Michael Tilson Thomas, Benjamin Zander, Jonathan Nott, and Jaap van Zweden. The sound of these recordings varies slightly from disc to disc, but Deutsche Grammophon's high standards are consistently met.