BARGAIN OF THE MONTH
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Trois Mélodies (1930) [7:31]
Harawi (1945) [57:48]
Hetna Regitze Bruun (soprano)
Kristoffer Hyldig (piano)
rec. 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11 June 2009, Mantziusgården, Birkerød, Denmark.
NAXOS 8.572189 [65:19]
The Naxos roster of fine discs with vocal and other music by Olivier Messiaen is now graced with Harawi, one of the composer’s central works for voice, and the earlier Trois Mélodies, written when the composer was only 22.
Trois Mélodies is Messiaen’s musical response to the death of his mother three years previously, and is full of tender melodic expression and, aside from a passionate climax in the first Pourquoi? and the opening of the last La fiancée perdue, restrained tonalities and dynamics in the piano. The texts of the outer songs were written by Messiaen himself, and the central song is on a poem by his mother. In the booklet notes David McCleery points out the influence of Debussy in Messiaen’s earlier pieces. The pianistic techniques indeed resonate with a longer tradition of French song which also includes composers such as Fauré. Messiaen’s own compositional language is by no means fully formed here, but these beautiful songs are a perfect precursor to one of the most potent song-cycles of the 20th century.
My experiences with Harawi began on the 10th of May 1990, when I had the privilege of seeing it performed live at the IJsbreker in Amsterdam by Yumi Nara and Jay Gottlieb. Their recording appears on the Deutsche Grammophon ‘Complete Edition’, though I am not sure if this is the same version as that with the Accord label, on which I turned out to be less keen than the live performance. Hetna Regitze Bruun and Kristoffer Hyldig are a powerful duo, and Hyldig certainly pulls no punches. Bruun’s voice is recorded if anything with marginally less presence than the piano, but isn’t swamped even through some of the richer textures in the accompaniment, and the balance leaves room for her own dynamic range to reach its full potential without pushing the recording equipment beyond its limits. Listen to the demanding Adieu on track 10 to hear the soprano voice arc over the resonance of the piano in hair-raising style.
Harawi is a strange mixture of Messiaen’s extravagantly perfumed tonalities, and the Peruvian traditional music which has its visual expression in the striking cover to the published songs. The cycle is part of Messiaen’s ‘Tristan trilogy’, whose members further include the Turangalila-symphonie and Cinq Rechants. The vocal writing occasionally forays into regions unfamiliar to the generally romantic feel of these ‘songs of love and death’, with repetitious, almost instrumental statements such as the Doundou tchil of the fourth song, intended to represent the ankle-bells worn by Peruvian dancers. Messiaen doesn’t stray too far beyond his own more usual idiom however, and gems such as Amour oiseu d’étoile always bring us back to the composer’s familiar sublime magic. The composer’s own texts are not given in the booklet, but almost more usefully, Erik Christensen provides a description and narrative context for each song.
This is a mighty song-cycle, and requires commanding performances from the musicians. The duo in this recording not only rise to the challenge, but excel in communicating its extremes of content, from vast landscape and fauna to folkloristic legend, and more importantly of human emotion. Hetna Regitze Bruun’s range and expressive power is remarkable, and only the coloratura turns which occur in the Répétition planétaire seemed as if they might have been a little less stiff. Harawi is a confrontation, an assault on the senses - involving and rewarding in equal measure, but an exhausting labyrinth nonetheless. Naxos has brought us a world class recording of this seminal vocal repertoire, and at bargain price this is a release not to be missed by Messiaen collectors.