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Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Complete Works for Piano, Vol. 4

Préludes (1928-29) [41:46]
Les offrandes oubliées (1930) [10:16]
Fantasie burlesque (1934) [7:08]
Pièce pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas (1935) [3:44]
Rondeau (1943) [2:38]
Prélude pour piano (1964) [2:49]
Paul Kim (piano)
rec. January 2004, Patrych Sound Studios, New York City
CENTAUR CRC 2727 [68:45]

The final volume of Paul Kim’s excellent recordings of the complete piano music of Olivier Messiaen concentrates almost entirely on the earlier works. The Préludes were written while Messiaen was still a student at the Paris Conservatoire, and while there are colours and gestures from other composers present - Debussy’s own Préludes being the most obvious influence - it is fascinating to hear how instantly recognisable and well formed the Messiaen musical fingerprints already were in this period. Each of the pieces is a meditation on a particular theme or subject. Some of these have enigmatic titles like Instants défunts, and the longest has the wonderful name Cloches d’angoisse et larmes d’adieu (Bells of Anguish and Tears of Farewell). Paul Kim shows his sensitive touch in this, and the other quieter movements, balancing the chords to reveal their melodic importance, as well as those long stretches of harmonic development, making the climaxes powerful and expressive. The opposite to this is arguably the eighth and final prelude, Un reflet dans le vent…(A Reflection in the Wind), whose extrovert pianism Kim compares to Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse in the booklet notes, and whose joyous rising motives sometimes bring Turangalila to mind.

Les offrandes oubliées, or ‘The Forgotten Offerings’ arranged for piano from the original orchestral version by the composer, is the only work on this disc with an overtly religious theme, and is recognised as being one of Messiaen’s most significant early pieces. A reverential, plainchant-like opening gives way to that famously savage central section in which Messiaen really plays the piano as an orchestra, hitting as hard as anything by Stravinsky. Paul Kim’s sense of eternal timelessness is very beautiful in this piece, and holds nothing back where the tumult of rage expresses fury and fear.

Messiaen resisted the extensive influences of jazz and popular styles prevalent in Paris in the 1930s, and his Fantasie burlesque often comes across more than a little anachronistically, placing ragtime rhythms and stride piano technique within the recognisable, serious Messiaen idiom. Kim shows himself well up to the challenge of the occasional shimmy, and with contrast and colour still central aspects of the writing, manages to give the work all of the French surrealist character it demands.

Pièce pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas as the title suggests, was written as part of a response by a number of composers to the loss of their mentor and colleague. In the resulting collection, published in the journal Revue Musicale in 1936, most of the works are tenderly graceful tributes, but as more than one commentator has pointed out, Messiaen’s honest feelings were of more of rage against the transient nature of existence, making this piece stand out from the crowd. Kim’s performance is tough and uncompromising, well expressing those feelings of frustration and fury. Placing the lighter Rondeau directly afterwards is good programming. This was a piece written as a test piece for a piano competition, and is full of exuberant trills and scherzo-like character. On the strength of this recording I think Mr. Kim would probably have won the prize.

A fascinating newcomer is the Prélude of 1964, which was only discovered in 2000 and subsequently edited for posthumous publication by Messiaen’s widow, Yvonne Loriod. The piece has a simple structure, and some surprisingly and strikingly simple diatonic/homophonic chords in the opening – one to play for knowledgeable friends, who might well be thrown for longer than usual. In a strange way the piece is like a musical letter left behind for all us fans, and as such you may find yourself ‘reading’ it very many times – I know I have. Kim’s playing and interpretation is as heroically affecting as the music, and is a fitting conclusion to this glorious set.

As with all of the releases in this series, Paul Kim’s own booklet notes are highly informative and written with great clarity. He opens the notes for this issue with a personal response to Messiaen’s music, and his feelings on having completed the task of a recording of the entire works for piano. We are also given a glimpse into how his involvement with such monumental efforts affected his family, and I for one would gladly allow him the space to show gratitude to those who had to put up with the great tracts of time put into preparing such recordings. Paul Kim’s volumes of Messiaen are something quite special, and deserve as wide an audience as anything available today.

Dominy Clements

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

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