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Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Complete Works for Piano, Vol. 3

Visions de l'Amen (1943) [43:47]
Quatre Études de rythme (1949-50) [17:00]
Cantéyodjayâ (1949) [12:17]
Paul Kim (piano)
Matthew Kim (piano 2, Visions de l’Amen)
rec. August 2002 (Visions de l’Amen), Fallon Studios, Armonk, New York; September 2002, Patrych Sound Studios, New York City
CENTAUR CRC 2668 [73:06]



Olivier Messiaen was repatriated from the wartime prison camp of Görlitz, Silesia in 1941, and was appointed to a professorship at the Paris Conservatoire. It was not long after this that a young pianist, Yvonne Loriod, joined his harmony class, and the direction of Messiaen’s creativity was once again transformed. In this context, it is clear that Visions de l’Amen is a major part of a new era in which the piano became the central focus of Messiaen’s work.

This great work is played here by Paul Kim and his son Matthew, whose piano education began aged two, and whose performing record with Visions dates, incredibly, from the age of ten. When this recording was made he had reached the grand old age of fifteen, making him – according to the booklet notes – the youngest artist to have recorded Messiaen’s music on a commercially released CD.

Keeping my feet firmly on the ground by referring to Peter Hill and Benjamin Frith’s excellent Unicorn/Regis recording of this work, and with some others like that of John Ogdon and Brenda Lucas resonating in the memory, I have to admit to being mightily impressed with this recording. The father and son combination, clear in its synergy, works supremely well, and there is never a hint of the second pianist’s lack of maturity in terms of years – indeed, I only read the booklet notes after an initial play through, and was amazed at what I was reading, having assumed they must be brothers! Visions de l’Amen requires not only absolute technical proficiency, but an equal if not greater sense of spiritual wonder and awe. Comparing Hill/Frith with Kim/Kim, I can’t help feeling that the latter achieve more in this direction. Take something like the Amen de l’Agonie de Jésus, and the composer’s acidic harmonies and doloroso gestures are given true profundity by these pianists. Their impact is uncompromising, and the cumulative effect will overwhelm you if you are prepared to allow your emotions follow their journey. Music like this is challenging, but at the same time it is often the intellect which needs to be given a back seat, and if you close your eyes and give yourself over to the Kim family’s version of a movement such as the Amen de Jugement then it will take you a little while to rejoin the real world after it has finished.

Paul Kim takes us further through his survey of the complete piano works with a blisteringly impressive opening Île de feu I, the first movement of Quatre Études de rythme. The second movement, Mode de valeurs et d’Intensités, demands a dissertation in its own right, and Paul Kim’s excellent booklet notes once again provide us with a great deal of detail concerning this and all of the other pieces in this set. Kim’s intellectual approach is coupled to an intelligence and musical instinct which, in my experience, blows away most of the competition. The precursor to this movement, Cantéyodjayâ, which also explores multiple-voiced serialism is also given an all-embracing performance on this disc. Kim understands and is able to express the non-European cultural influences in these pieces – not that they will necessarily be immediately apparent in the seemingly endless flow of complex ideas contained in this work, but you can at least rest assured that all the detail and content is accurately, skilfully, and powerfully presented on this recording.

I would love to be able to say that this disc is a highlight in Paul Kim’s complete Messiaen piano cycle, but am only reluctant in doing so in that it might give the impression that there are weaknesses elsewhere. This complete set goes from strength to strength, and this disc is about as strong as they come.

Dominy Clements

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

Volume 4

 


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