> Olivier MESSIAEN - Piano Music [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Olivier MESSIAEN (1908 Ė 1992)
Les offrandes oubliées (1930)
Fantaisie burlesque (1932)
Pièce pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas (1935)
Rondeau (1943)
Prélude (1964)
La Fauvette des Jardins (1972)
Håkon Austbø (piano)
Recorded: St Martinís Church, East Woodhay, Hampshire, April 1999 and Doopsgezinde Kerk, Deventer, Netherlands, July 2001 (Prélude)
NAXOS 8.554655 [57:16]


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This, the fourth volume of NAXOSís recordings of Messiaenís piano music, focuses on a number of lesser-known pieces and on some rarities from his sizeable piano output.

Thus, the piano version of Messiaenís first major orchestral work Les offrandes oubliées (1930) was made at the same time as the orchestral score, but does not seem to have attracted much attention since. True to say that the piece works much better in its orchestral guise, but the piano version, unsatisfying as it may be, is still well worth hearing.

The Fantaisie burlesque, written in 1932, is quite a curiosity indeed, for one would not readily associate Messiaenís name with a piece attempting some musical humour. This lightish work full of jazzy inflections is rather surprising, the more so because of Messiaenís dislike of jazz. He even criticised Ravel for allowing jazz rhythms and phrases in his G major Piano Concerto and in LíEnfant et les Sortilèges. Though no great masterpiece, it is an entertaining minor work.

The short Pièce pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas was composed in 1935 (and not in 1953 as stated in the otherwise excellent notes) in homage to Messiaenís teacher, whereas the engaging Rondeau was written as a competition piece for the Paris Conservatoire. The short Prélude of 1964 (and published posthumously in 2000) is yet another curiosity sometimes redolent of Satie in his Gothic mood.

La Fauvette des Jardins, completed in 1972, is a major work and a sizeable sequel to Messiaenís large-scale cycle Catalogue des oiseaux. A tone poem in all but the name, it evokes some Dauphiné landscapes from dawn to sunset in vividly colourful tones in which birdsong inevitably has the lionís share. It is a quite impressive achievement by any count, and one of Messiaenís most readily accessible single piano works. I wonder what it might have sounded like, had Messiaen decided to orchestrate it.

For all I can judge, Austbøís readings are excellent. His piano playing has the tonal variety and the physical stamina required by Messiaenís often taxing piano writing. He also possesses a vivid imagination that serves him well in his fine reading of La Fauvette des Jardins. A most welcome foray into Messiaenís lesser-known piano works.

Hubert Culot

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