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Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Hommage À Messiaen
Préludes pour Piano (1928/9) [36:28]; Catalogue d’oiseaux (1956/58) – La Bouscarle [10:23]; L’Alouette Lulu [6:38]. Quatre Etudes de Rhythme - Île de feu I (1949) [1’54]; Île de feu II (1950) [4:12]
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
rec. Grosser Saal, Konzerthaus, Vienna, February 2008. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

The Messiaen centenary celebrations have brought forth much for the listener to celebrate. Pierre-Laurent Aimard has long been linked with the music of Messiaen - especially the Vingt Regards, a piece despatched with much aplomb recently by Steven Osborne at London’s Wigmore Hall. 

Each of the Huit Préludes is individually named. The set represents the earliest music on this disc, for it was written in 1928-9, when the composer was still a student at the Paris Conservatoire. First, “La Colombe” (“The Dove”), according to Aimard, who provides the excellent booklet notes, a portrait of Messiaen’s mother, who had recently died. “Chant d’extase dans un paysage triste” begins from this starting point before elevating the atmosphere towards the luminosity of some of the later piano works - particularly the Vingt Regards. Messiaen’s French inheritance is perhaps most obvious in the perfumes of “Les sons impalpable du rêve”, a glance back in time that is instantly negated by the bells of “Cloches d’angoisse et larmes d’adieu”. It is a glance that demonstrates also Messiaen’s fascination with colour in music. “Cloches” is the longest Prélude (9:22), an exploration of resonance inspired by the harmonics of bells. The brief, simple “Plaine calme” acts as a refreshing foil before “Un Reflet dans le vent …” ends the cycle in near-virtuoso style. Aimard’s performance is as expert, polished and drenched in the spirit of Messiaen as one would expect. 

The two excerpts from Catalogue d’oiseaux are magnificent. “Le Bouscarle” (Cetti’s Warbler) is a showpiece of Messiaen’s techniques. Aimard explores its unpredictabilities, like a bird in flight, with complete understanding. “L’Alouette Lulu” (Wood Lark) is an altogether darker proposition. Aimard refers to this movement as “a night-piece” and how right he is. Aimard’s variety of tone is magnificent here - notice how he is unafraid of “hard” sonorities as a valid part of his repertoire, so unlike many pianists of today. 

The stark modernism of “Île de feu I” continues the process of the disc’s trajectory from the instantly approachable to the more challenging. This is Messiaen at his most avant-garde as well as representing what Aimard rightly calls Messiaen’s “Neo-primitivism”. The violence of the Papuans’ rituals was a direct influence here, and Aimard pulls no punches, as the final toccata-like passages of the final piece of the recital clearly demonstrate. Despite this, there is an awareness that every note, every texture has been highly considered. 

Aimard, in his selection, aimed to reflect the various character traits of his Master – the gentleness (Préludes), the childlike wonder at the natural world (Catalogue) and the hard-hitting intellectual (Etudes de Rhythme). He succeeded in no uncertain terms. As an introduction to the piano works of Olivier Messiaen, this disc is a vital purchase – but it provides so much more. Aimard’s pianism, the superb recording and above all the sheer mastery of the music all conspire towards a very special disc indeed.

Colin Clarke



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