Messiaen's Poèmes pour Mi were originally
written in 1936/37, setting his own poems for soprano voice and
piano. He then orchestrated the work and this is the form in
which it is recorded here. Messiaen's poems were written for
his wife Claire Delbos (Mi). Though love songs dedicated to his
wife, these are not romantic; instead Messiaen mixes spirituality,
mystery and connection to the love of God, all in his own inimitable
style. The music is richly worked but is not quite as over-wrought
or as esoteric as some of his later pieces. You also feel that
the subject matter means that Messiaen's writing is less exotically
self-regarding than some of his later pieces.
On this disc they are performed by German soprano Anne Schwanewilms
accompanied by the Orchestre de Lyon under their German-born
conductor Jun Märkl. Schwanewilms has a lovely silvery
voice with an element of steel in it. Not for nothing is she
as a Strauss soprano. She has a nice sense of line and beautifully
spins out the long-breathed melodic lines. She probably doesn't
quite sing the music with the 'pin-point accuracy' that the
Gramophone describes Jane Manning as using. But musically there
to complain about.
On the dramatic front, though, Schwanewilms's performance is
a little more mixed. For a start, though her French is entirely
creditable you can't help feeling that a French soprano would
inflect the text more. The poems of the title are important and
Messiaen's setting uses a lot of dramatic declamation, some of
it reminiscent of Ravel in Shéhérezade.
Here a larger dramatic voice is a help - one with more amplitude.
In fact, Messiaen's ideal for the singer in the song-cycle was
a grand, dramatic soprano. On his recording, Pierre Boulez uses
the French dramatic soprano Francoise Pollet. It is this recording
that gives you an idea what the ideal performance of the work
might be, with Pollet's voice matching the lush extravagance
of the music.
That said, Schwanewilms is entirely captivating in her silvery
loveliness and I could be reasonably happy with this recording.
Märkl and his orchestra accompany the soprano quite mellifluously,
with some appealingly clear textures. The orchestra does not
have the luxuriance or the sheer gloss of more well known ensembles;
here though, they punch above their weight. And the clarity
and transparency which they bring to the music is certainly
Märkl and the orchestra follow the song-cycle with the
purely orchestral Les Offrandes Oubliées, Messiaen's first
published orchestra work. It was written in 1930, after completing
his studies at the Conservatoire. The orchestra are beautifully
poised in the outer two slow sections, but could perhaps bring
a bit more ferocity to the middle section.
Finally we jump forward some sixty years, to 1991, when Messiaen
wrote Un sourire - a piece in homage to Mozart for the
composer's centenary. Charming and elegant, it makes a suitable
conclusion to the disc.
Though Naxos include reasonable notes in the booklet, there are
no texts to the poems, evidently for copyright reasons, nor are
there any for download on the Naxos web-site. This makes things
rather difficult for those who do not know the songs.
This recital is well thought out and well put together. It’s
also performed very stylishly. It wouldn't make it on to my
ideal recording list, but at Naxos price it is ideally placed
people to experiment and try the repertoire; just a pity that
the texts are missing.
see also reivew by Dominy