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Seen and Heard Concert Review

Rameau (arr. Gevaert), Messiaen Roger Muraro (piano), BBCSO/Sylvain Cambreling, Barbican Hall, March 22nd, 2005 (CC)

The idea of a concert of French music by two composers two centuries apart (mediated in a way by François-Auguste Gavaert, 1828-1908, the arranger of the Rameau) is an interesting one. It might even have worked, had the orchestra and conductor rehearsed the Suite from Castor et Pollux.

Gevaert’s arrangement of the Rameau sounds a little like the Beecham/Handel or Hamilton Harty/Handel arrangements at times, drawing (dragging?) the original source across a century. This approach can be fun, but in a performance where it seemed sight-reading was the norm, jollity can hardly be on the agenda. True, Castor et Pollux is a ‘tragédie en musique’, but it seems Gevaert had picked some movements at least designed to raise a smile. Scrappy violins in the slow part of the Overture, a gallant but not exactly assured Gavotte and shoddy speed changes in the Passepied (they need to be absolutely spot-on for the meaning of the juxtapositions to register) made this a very long opener (twenty minutes in total).

Steven Osborne’s indisposition meant that the solo pianist in Messiaen’s Réveil des oiseaux (1953) was Roger Muraro. I had, I confess, requested this concert on the strength of Osborne’s Messiaen. In the end, the substitution was a real ear-opener. Muraro was pianist in Myung-Whun Chung’s memorable DG account of Des canyons aux étoiles … and he has a seven-disc set of Messiaen piano works on Musidisc (461 907-2). (Perhaps Muraro’s name has not had greater currency in the UK because of his devotion to his record label, Accord, not massively publicised here.) A pupil of Yvonne Loriod while at the Paris Conservatoire, his bird-painting was the most musical this reviewer has heard – and I include the likes of Pierre-Laurent Aimard here. Muraro’s playing is light and agile, characterful, and technically rock-solid. Cambreling managed to inspire the BBCSO’s oiseaux to glitter as they woke up (the piece traces birdsong over a twelve-hour period, between midnight and noon) while Muraro’s staccati pecked delightfully. A memorable performance.


Cambreling was one of the first to set down Eclairs sur l’au delà (see below). His L’ascension, Messiaen’s masterpiece of 1932/3, was impressive. Apt, really, that during the Réveil des oiseaux the orchestra too was waking up. Nicely awake now, the brass were beautifully balanced in the first movement chorale (‘Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son Père’), and Cambreling was able to set up that timeless feel so characteristic of this composer’s music. The supple rhythms of the melody of the ‘Alléluias sereins d’une âme qui désire le ciel’ and the pining, lamenting solos were both remarkably expressive, while the ‘Scherzo’ (‘Alléluia sur la trompette, alléluia sur la cymballe’) exuded a fair amount of energy under Camberling’s clear direction. If the string tone was on the thin side for the level of ecstasy demanded by the final ‘Prière du Christ montant vers son Père’, a movement of Mahlerian semi-stasis, there were nevertheless moments of radiance.

Certainly worth it for the Messiaen works, if not the rather damp-squibbed Rameau. It does rather appear that people stayed at home to listen to this on the radio, though (it was a live broadcast). Messiaen deserves more than a third-full hall.

Colin Clarke

Further Listening:

Muraro: Messiaen Piano Works Musidisc 461 907-2
Eclairs sur l’au delà SWR SO Baden-Baden und Freiburg/Cambreling, Haenssler 93 063

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