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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
The 100th Anniversary Edition
see end of review for details
rec. 1956-2004. mono/stereo. ADD/DDD
EMI CLASSICS 2174662 [14 CDs: ca 15 hrs]
Experience Classicsonline

Naxos was the pathfinder with budget CDs where Saga and CFP did the same duty for LPs. Others have taken up their example. Brilliant Classics arrogated to themselves the fame of the super-budget classics box and, with the pattern set, competitors and colleagues have like reluctant children followed. EMI under this double pressure are a force to be reckoned with once their dander is up. They have the archives to flatten almost any competition and have rapidly amassed a major line in low price boxes stuffed to the rafters with delectable goodies garnered from a treasury second to none. Interesting that EMI have also, in parallel, fed Brilliant with licensed deals over the years including the Sawallisch Brahms, the Muti Scriabin and Tchaikovsky and the Martinon, Saint-Saëns, Ravel and Debussy. Commercial pragmatism is alive and kicking.

In order to get some attention paid to this massive box I have had to sample and select. This is not a case where I have listened to every or indeed most tracks - so be aware. I am however familiar with quite a few of these recordings over the years and the box does indeed span more than four decades - LP to cassette to CD - analogue to SQ to digital.

Rather like their stupendous Britten box, EMI's set can be seen as an alternative and indeed select Messiaen. If you want something that is a closer approach to comprehensive then seek out - if you can find it anywhere - that massive DG Messiaen box lauded by Patrick Waller. I wish I had snapped that one up. Also don't forget the two Decca-Universal boxes.

Messiaen was born in Avignon. A devout Catholic he wove worship and awe brilliantly into all he wrote. His first great success came in 1931 and was Les Offrandes. That year he was appointed organist at Église de la Sainte-Trinité, Paris and that instrument runs riot and reflection through his catalogue. In July 1940 he was in captivity in a camp in Silesia where he famously he wrote and had premiered his Quatuor pour le fin du temps - heard here in a commanding up-close recording and performance. The Koussevitsky-commissioned Turangalila - premiered by Bernstein - is the work by which he is best known by those who approach him through the concert hall. Among the themes that gripped and obsessed Messiaen were mathematical patterning, mystery (as in Éclairs sur l'au-delà) and birdsong - the latter experienced for example through Chronochromie.

I have heard rather a lot of CD1 of late. It was most recently encountered in the Previn Great Recordings box (10CDs) on EMI. Previn was riding the high wave in 1977 when made his Turangalila with Loriod and Béroff. This set is a very economical way of adding this vintage Previn recording to your collection. His Turangalila was an early recording for the work, shaking off the distant eminence of the ancient Vega set but more especially challenging the Ozawa version on RCA which had long held sway. The playing is eruptively technicoloured and can stand comparison with much more modern recordings. The ondes martenot does perhaps sound a little literal - like a swanee whistle and the bass is not as extended as you would get from a more modern effort such as from Chung on DG or even from Rattle on a later EMI. Still it's wonderfully enjoyable and the mystery of Turangalila is communicated strongly.

Then we encounter orchestral friends from the wild periphery and those hoary LP days: Doráti's BBCSO Gulbenkian-funded Chronochromie (rec. 1964) and Baudo's Les Offrandes and Et Exspecto (rec. 1968) with the Orchestre du Paris. Les Offrandes recalls, in its unusually succinct way, the slow prayerful adagios of Panufnik but with a more Bergian strain. The parallel holds good for the Polish composer's manic angry explosive movements encased, as here, between whispered hymns. Et exspecto is from the same 1968 sessions attended by the composer. The gamelan influence is unmistakable in the Ils ressusciteront movement with the percussion parts played throughout by Ensemble de Percussion de l'Orchestre de Paris. The work’s excoriating ecstatic dissonance makes this one of Messiaen's most uncompromising pieces. We move from the diffuse acoustic of Salle Wagram to Abbey Road for the astonishingly transparent and fragmented glassy Chronochromie with its bruisingly angular Stravinskianisms in collision with birdsong. It is superbly done in a dazzle of shrapnel by Dorati and the well-attuned BBCSO.

The orchestral representation continues in the hands of Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil in the hour-long Éclairs sur l'au-delà. This is the most recent recording here - it was made in the Philharmonie in 2004. It was performed by the NYPO only six months after the composer's death. Mysticism and eternity groan out in pain and ecstasy. La Constellation du Sagittaire deploys the violins sweetly - as does Demeurer dans L'Amour amid birdsong and chamber delicate whistlings. L'Oiseau Lyre recalls the violent plungings of Turangalila. This is a fantastic journey which in its cataclysm and spectral beauty might make it an apt soundtrack to Poe's novel "The Mystery of Arthur Gordon Pym". The final movement of eleven - Le Christ, lumière du paradis is one of the great passages in Western music. It is a yearning portrayal - a slowly blooming rapturous benediction carried by singing violins.

Included on the Quatuor disc is the rarely heard Thème et Variations for violin and piano. It's a recent-ish recording of a work of sinuous delight. It uses a less challenging language than its contemporaries of the 1930s. Birdsong and dissonance return for Le Merle Noir. Béroff's Preludes and Vingt Regards - the latter straddling CD 5 and 6 - are potent versions with some slight allowance having to be made for the analogue stock. CD 7 moves from Béroff's Odysseyan Vingt Regards to Rabinovitch and Argerich's fissile Visions de l'Amen - a gamelan-inflected series of temple meditations recorded with sturdy power and silky subtlety The bell-tower clangorous drive and nuanced delicacy - especially in Amen du Désir make this a very special document. The 1989 recording is astonishing - just that shade more stable and rooted than Béroff in the dissonant Quatre Etudes du Rythme recorded in Salle Wagram by Béroff in 1978. Do not forget the composer's own recording from the 1950s preserved on FMR Records.

The 14th and last disc in the set is a 1990-recorded recital around Terry Edwards' skilled and sensitive conducting of various permutations of the London Sinfonietta and its satellite choirs. The dazzling and colourfully orchestrated Trois petites liturgies feature Rolf Hind (piano), Cynthia Millar (ondes martenot) with many passages related to the curve and wildness of Turangalila. The purely choral Cinq Rechants - is something of a vocal ultima thule in the Messiaen treasury with its enthusiastic experimentation. O sacrum convivium! closes the collection with an almost sentimental and not at all dissonant counterpart to Delius and Allegri. Utterly beautiful.

The authoritative voice of the composer as organist can be sampled at length in Le Banquet Céleste, Diptyque, Apparition de l'Église éternelle, L'Ascension, La Nativité du Seigneur, Les Corps Glorieux, Messe de la pentecôte and Livre d'orgue - all from sessions in June and July 1956 at Église de la Sainte-Trinité, Paris.

Far from deserving of disdain are 'stragglers' such as John Ogdon's 1972 Cantéyodjaya - part of a wackily miscellaneous LP box - which stirred memories of Messiaen pu[pil, Jacques Charpentier's monumental Etudes Karnatiques, Emmanuel Pahud's solo flute Le Merle Noir and Naji Hakim's 1997 Dieu Parmi Nous and Prière après la Communion from Sainte-Trinité. All the organ recordings - including Hakim's - were made there in Messiaen's accustomed church and using his favoured instrument. Those composer-played organ solos from the composer's most verdant years are astonishing things to have and of all of them as experienced on discs 8-11 I direct you to the meditative Alleluias sereins from L'Ascension and the shattered stained glass and coruscating explosions of sunlight of Transports de joie. If you have 'issues' with the organ be aware that this set includes four discs taken up with that instrument. Along with the orchestra it was Messiaen's natural habitat - his domain.  

Unlike EMI's parallel Collectors' Edition series this set has excellent, newly written liner-notes by Roger Nichols.

The three final discs of songs and other vocal settings are unsupported with written texts. The Michèle Command/Petit mélodies from 1977 sessions are done with real feeling and technical accuracy by the steady-toned Command. Both soprano and pianist were strongly recorded in the Salle Wagram. These songs, especially the 1930s Poèmes pour Mi and Chants de Terre et de Ciel, chart the shadowy line between the heartland of French mélodies and Messiaen's ecstatic dissonance. Harawi (love-song that ends in the death of the lovers) which takes up the whole of CD 13 is assertively and plangently dissonant as well as accommodating some fairly avant-garde effects such as the obsessive matte iterations of Doundou tchi. Like the Etudes de Rythme on CD 7, Harawi carries a redolence of the Far East and in this sense can be compared with works by Charpentier, Cras and Tomasi. They were all composers, in various measures, fascinated by Indochine and other parts of the Far East - the Départements Outre-Mers of France's imperial glory.

Thus the set offers many Messiaen landmark scores but of necessity omits more than a few. The most notable of these are Des Canyons aux Étoiles and the opera St Francis.

Rob Barnett

Full track-list
CD 1
1 I. Introduction 6.55
2 II. Chant d’amour I 8.40
3 III. Turangalîla I 5.35
4 IV. Chant d’amour II 11.35
5 V. Joie du sang des etoiles 6.38
6 VI. Jardin du sommeil d’amour 12.33
7 VII. Turangalîla II 3.50
8 VIII. Développement de l’amour 11.55
9 IX. Turangalîla III 5.24
10 X. Final 7.13
Jeanne Loriod (ondes martenot), Michel Béroff (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
Recorded: VII.1977, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road London

CD 2
Les Offrandes oubliées
1 La Croix - 3.13
2 La Péché - 3.10
3 L’Eucharistie 6.04
Orchestre de Paris/Serge Baudo
Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum
4 ‘Des profondeurs de l’abîme, je cris vers toi, Seigneur; Seigneur, écoute ma voix!’ 2.40
5 ‘Le Christ, ressuscité des morts, ne meurt plus; la mort n’a plus sur lui d’empire’ 5.52
6 ‘L’heure vient où les morts entendront la voix du fils de Dieu…’ 4.11
7 ‘Ils ressusciteront, glorieux, avec un nom nouveau dans le concert joyeux des étoiles et les acclamations des fils du ciel’ 7.45
8 ‘Et j’entends la voix d’une foule immense…’ 5.01
Ensemble de Percussion de l’Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre de Paris/Serge Baudo
Recorded: 6 & 8.III.1968, Salle Wagram, Paris in the presence of the composer
9 I. Introduction 3.14
10 II. Strophe I 1.34
11 III. Antistrophe I 3.05
12 IV. Strophe II 1.37
13 V. Antistrophe II 5.33
14 VI. Épode 4.19
15 VII. Coda 2.30
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Antal Dorati
Recorded: 27.IX & 11-16.X.1964, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London

CD 3
É clairs sur l’au délà
1 I. Apparition du Christ glorieux 5.45
2 II. La Constellation du Sagittaire 5.53
3 III. L’Oiseau-lyre et la Ville-fiancée 4.03
4 IV. Les Élus marqués du sceau 1.53
5 V. Demeurer dans l’Amour… 10.11
6 VI. Les Sept Anges aux sept trompettes 4.03
7 VII. Et Dieu essuiera tout larme de leurs yeux… 3.32
8 VIII. Les Étoiles et la Gloire 11.14
9 IX. Plusieurs Oiseaux des arbres de Vie 2.28
10 X. Le Chemin de l’Invisible 3.43
11 XI. Le Christ, lumière du Paradis 7.40
Berliner Philharmoniker/Sir Simon Rattle
Recorded: 17-19.VI.2004, Philharmonie, Berlin

CD 4 65.00
Quatuor pour la fin du temps
1 I. Liturgie de Cristal 2.26
2 II. Vocalise, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du temps 4.24
3 III. Abîme des oiseaux 7.42
4 IV. Intermède 1.37
5 V. Louange à l’Eternité de Jésus 8.06
6 VI. Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes 6.01
7 VII. Fouillis d’arcs-en-ciel, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du temps 7.12
8 VIII. Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus 8.28
Yvonne Loriod (piano), Christoph Poppen (violin), Manuel Fischer-Dieskau (cello), Wolfgang Meyer (clarinet)
Thème et variations
9 Thème: Modéré 2.04
10 Variation I: Modéré 2.11
11 Variation II: Un peu moins modéré 1.08
12 Variation III: Modéré, avec éclat 0.54
13 Variation IV: Vif et passionné 1.17
14 Variation V: Très modéré 4.45
Christoph Poppen (violin), Yvonne Loriod (piano)
Recorded: 19-21.XI.1990, Église Notre-Dame du Liban, Paris, in the presence of the composer
15 Le merle noir
Emmanuel Pahud (flute)
Recorded: 17-19.II.1997, St. Michael’s Church, Highgate, London

CD 5
1 La Colombe 1.36
2 Chant d’extase dans un paysage triste 5.35
3 Le Nombre léger 1.37
4 Instants défunts 4.19
5 Les Sons impalpables du rêve 3.31
6 Cloches d’angoisse et larmes d’adieu 9.00
7 Plainte calme 3.25
8 Un reflet dans le vent 4.36
Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus
9 Regard du Père 5.39
10 Regard de l’étoile 2.49
11 L’Échange 3.23
12 Regard de la Vierge 5.05
13 Regard du Fils sur le Fils 5.09
14 Par Lui tout a été fait 8.58
15 Regard de la croix 4.50
16 Regard des hauteurs 2.04

CD 6
1 Regard du temps 3.04
2 Regard de l’esprit de joie 8.08
3 Première communion de la Vierge 6.47
4 La Parole toute puissante 2.19
5 Noël 4.15
6 Regard des Anges 4.30
7 Le Baiser de l’Enfant-Jésus 8.34
8 Regard des prophètes, des bergers et des Mages 2.51
9 Regard du silence 4.59
10 Regard de l’Onction terrible 6.19
11 Je dors, mais mon coeur veille 9.07
12 Regard de l’Église d’amour 11.17
Michel Béroff (piano)
Recorded: III. & V.1978 (Préludes), IX. & X.1969 (Vingt Regards), Salle Wagram, Paris

CD 7
Visions de l’Amen
1 I. Amen de la Création 4.32
2 II. Amen des étoiles, de la planéte à l’anneau 5.09
3 III. Amen de l’Agonie de Jésus 9.04
4 IV. Amen du Désir 11.29
5 V. Amen des Anges, des Saints, du chant des oiseaux 7.48
6 VI. Amen du Jugement 2.52
7 VII. Amen de la Consommation 6.27
Alexandre Rabinovitch, Martha Argerich (piano)s
Recorded: 2 & 3.XII.1989, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London
Quatre études de rythme
8 Ile de feu - I: Presque vif 2.55
9 Modes de valeurs et d’intensités: Modéré 2.37
10 Neumes rythmiques: Vif - bien modéré 7.38
11 Ile de feu - II: Vif et féroce 3.44
Michel Béroff (piano)
Recorded: 21 & 23.III & 2, 3 & 5.V.1978, Salle Wagram, Paris
12 Cantéyodjâya 5.57
John Ogdon (piano)
Recorded: 25.VII.1972, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London

CD 8
1 Le Banquet céleste 7.10
2 Diptyque 10.15
3 Apparition de l’Église éternelle 9.09
4 I. Majesté du Christ demandant sa Gloire à son Père 7.23
5 II. Alléluias sereins d’une âme qui désire le ciel 6.12
6 III. Transports de joie d’une âme devant la gloire du Christ qui est la sienne 4.40
7 IV. Prière du Christ montant vers son Père 10.18

CD 9
La Nativité de Seigneur
1 I. La Vierge et l’Enfant 5.10
2 II. Les Bergers 0.18
3 III. Desseins éternels 5.16
4 IV. Le Verbe 13.37
5 V. Les Enfants de Dieu 4.34
6 VI. Les Anges 3.12
7 VII. Jésus accepte la souffrance 4.51
8 VIII. Les Mages 6.25
9 IX. Dieu parmi nous 9.23
Olivier Messiaen (organ)
Recorded: 15-22.VI.1956, Église de la Sainte-Trinité, Paris
La Nativité de Seigneur
10 IX. Dieu parmi nous 8.48
Livre du Saint Sacrement
11 XVI. Prière après la Communion 6.48
Naji Hakim (organ)
Recorded: 6.III.1997, Église de la Sainte-Trinité, Paris

CD 10
Les Corps glorieux
1 I. Subtilité des Corps glorieux 5.58
2 II. Les Eaux de la Grâce 3.01
3 III. L’Ange aux parfums 7.35
4 IV. Combat de la Mort et de la Vie 21.16
5 V. Force et Agilité des Corps glorieux 3.18
6 VI. Joie et Clarté des Corps glorieux 6.22
7 VII. Le mystère de la Sainte Trinité 6.12

CD 11
Messe de la Pentecôte
1 I. Entrée (Les langues de feu) 3.49
2 II. Offertoire (Les choses visibles et invisibles) 14.07
3 III. Consécration (Le don de Sagesse) 4.23
4 IV. Communion (Les oiseaux et les sources) 7.36
5 V. Sortie (Le vent de l’Esprit) 3.44
Livre d’orgue
6 I. Reprises par interversion 6.33
7 II. Pièce en trio 2.14
8 III. Les Mains de l’abîme 9.07
9 IV. Chants d’oiseaux 8.25
10 V. Pièce en trio 8.50
11 VI. Les Yeux dans les roues 1.42
12 VII. Soixante-quatre durées 11.04
Olivier Messiaen (organ)
Recorded: 27.VI (CD10) & 26.VII.1956, Église de la Sainte-Trinité, Paris

CD 12
1 La Mort du nombre 10.01
Ann Murray soprano, Philip Langridge tenor
Andrew Watkinson violin, Roger Vignoles (piano)
Recorded: II.1990, St. Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, Berkshire
3 Mélodies
2 I. Pourquoi? (Olivier Messiaen) 1.56
3 II. Le sourire (Cécile Sauvage) 1.25
4 III. La fiancée perdue (Olivier Messiaen) 2.37
Poèmes pour Mi (Olivier Messiaen)
5 I. Action de grâces 7.03
6 II. Paysage 2.07
7 III. La maison 1.43
8 IV. Épouvante 3.02
9 V. L’epouse 2.30
10 VI. Ta voix 3.28
11 VII. Les deux guerriers 1.44
12 VIII. Le collier 3.42
13 IX. Prière exaucée 3.14
Chants de Terre et de Ciel (Olivier Messiaen)
14 I. Bail avec Mi (Pour ma femme) 3.25
15 II. Antienne du silence (Pour le jour des anges gardiens) 2.48
16 III. Danse du Bébé-pilule (Pour mon petit Pascal) 6.49
17 IV. Arc-en-ciel d’innocence (Pour mon petit Pascal) 4.59
18 V. Minuit pile et face (Pour la mort) 5.18
19 VI. Résurrection (Pour le jour de Pâques) 4.31

CD 13
Chants d’amour et de mort, pour chant (grand soprano dramatique) et (piano).
1 I. La ville qui dormait 4.31
2 II. Bonjour toi, colombe verte 4.31
3 III. Montagnes 4.31
4 IV. Doundou tchil 4.31
5 V. L’amour de Piroutcha 4.31
6 VI. Répétition planétaire 4.31
7 VII. Adieu 4.31
8 VIII. Syllabes 4.31
9 IX. L’escalier redit, gestes du soleil 4.31
10 X. Amour oiseau d’étoile 4.31
11 XI. Katchikatchi les étoiles 4.31
12 XII. Dans le noir 4.31
Michèle Command soprano, Marie-Madeleine Petit (piano)
Recorded: 2, 5 & 6, 26-28.XII.1977, Salle Wagram, Paris

CD 14
Trois Petites Liturgies de la Présence divine
1 Antienne de la Conversation intérieure (Dieu présent en nous…) 9.37
2 Séquence du Verbe, Cantique divin (Dieu présent en lui-même…) 6.16
3 Psalmodie de l’Ubiquité par Amour (Dieu présent en toutes choses…) 17.34 
4 I. Les amoureux s’envolent… 5.01
5 II. Ma première fois… 3.35
6 III. Ma robe d’amour 4.40
7 IV. Mon bouquet tout défait rayonne… 3.09
8 V. Tes yeux voyagent… 4.19
9 O Sacrum Convivium! 4.19
Rolf Hind (piano), Cynthia Millar ondes Martenot
London Sinfonietta, London Sinfonietta Chorus
London Sinfonietta Voices (4-9), Terry Edwards 

Note that individual disc timings are not included, as the documentation from EMI is self-contradictory.



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