This is another welcome,
and important, exhumation from the EMI catalogue courtesy of ArkivMusic.
It is welcome in the sense that it is surely one of the finest
recordings of this seminal work and important in that is restores
one of Argerich’s rare performances of twentieth century music.
Visions de l’Amen
(1943) was the first substantial composition of the ‘mature’ Messiaen.
Indeed it serves not only as a summation of his compositional
developments thus far, but also provides an indicator of the advances
that would follow. This was the first work by Messiaen to be
inspired by Yvonne Loriod, whose ‘transcendental virtuosity’ allowed
the composer to explore new possibilities of piano writing. It
was written for both himself and Loriod; the two-piano medium,
whilst giving the composer scope to be more dramatic than ever
before, also allowed him to create two uniquely different piano
parts. In general terms he entrusted to the first piano the more
complex rhythmic elements, the chord clusters and the most dextrously
challenging passages whilst the second piano is given the majority
of the melodic elements, the recurring themes and the emotional
In other words, neither
part is subordinate to the other; it is simply that each part
has its own unique challenges - and, this being Messiaen, those
challenges are of a Herculean nature. This should assuage any
fears that by tackling the second piano part Argerich is in any
way taking the ‘back seat’. In fact, Messiaen composed that part
for himself, so eager was he to have control of the emotional
aspects of the work.
Loriod made such an
impression upon the composer that he subsequently composed countless
works for her, and she eventually became his wife. However, she
was not the only inspiration for the Visions. Whilst many
of Messiaen’s previous works had taken there inspiration from
biblical sources, Visions is heavily influenced by theological
concerns. It is difficult not to see this shift as being in some
way connected to Loriod; perhaps Messiaen was looking not only
at religious ecstasy but to a more earthy, human emotion - a course
that would reach its culmination in the joyous love poem Turangalila.
the Visions represent significant advances in his piano
writing. Whilst he had composed for the instrument before, the
two-piano medium offered a far more ‘orchestral’ palette of colours
and textures, closer to his beloved organ. This was also the first
time that he began to use recurring, cyclic themes over vast structures.
These, of course, are only the tip of the iceberg when describing
the great array of technical devices which contribute to Messiaen’s
musical language, but should give some indication as to the huge
demands that a work such of this make on its performers.
Argerich and Rabinovitch
have, of course, conquered entirely the technical demands of the
work. We expect that. The most important consideration is whether
or not the work convinces; it does. With this duo you really do
get a sense of awe and wonder, of ecstasy and timelessness. And
yes, they do handle the different colours and textures so successfully
that it does start to resemble some vast, glittering edifice.
You could really get lost in their sound. Indeed, if you experience
synesthesia in the way that the composer
did: with different sounds inducing the sensation of different
colours, you’ll probably find listening to this performance somewhat
akin to a narcotic experience.
Of course, if you
want complete authority, then Messiaen’s own 1949 recording with
Loriod is now available (Future Music Records FMRCD120) but
Rabinovitch and Argerich make a superb modern recommendation.
The excellent booklet notes are mostly by the composer himself,
providing an approachable and informative commentary on the different
movements. EMI’s sound is good, though not quite state of the
art. This being a straight re-pressing of the original 1990 release,
the running time is at a rather short 48 minutes; however, such
is the density and power of the music that you’ll probably still
be exhausted by the experience.
Owen E. Walton