Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Visions de l’Amen (1943) [48:53]
Sarah Rothenberg; Marilyn Nonken (pianos)
rec. Stude Hall, Shepherd School of Music, Rice University, Houston, Texas, 26-29 May 2009. DDD
BRIDGE 9324 [48:53]
The prime modern account of Messiaen’s visionary Visions de l’Amen is that on Hyperion by Steven Osborne and Martin Roscoe. That this version intermittently comes close is testament to its dedication. However, it misses the key element of transportation towards ecstasy and; on occasion, it seems surprisingly directionless, too. The potentialities of the “Amen de la Création” do not quite glow with promise - neither are the rhythms of the “Amen des étoiles, de la planète à l’anneau” as primal as they could be. Messiaen described the latter as a “brutal, savage dance”, yet there is a feeling of restraint here.
These two movements include two polarities of Messiaen’s mode of expression - latent and expressed ecstasy. Both need, as well as first rate players, first rate sound, and Bridge’s efforts cannot come close to the sense of presence and truth achieved by Hyperion’s engineers on CDA67366 - a disc that also manages to fit in three extra pieces. On Bridge, the bass register lacks full definition and can come close to muddy. Also overall immediacy is lacking.
There is little sense of suffering, of a mystic nature or otherwise, in the “Amen de l’agonie de Jésus”. Seeming simplicity in music often carries the highest demands, and such is the case here with the opening of “Amen des anges, des saints, du chant des oiseaux”, which opens with a pure melody that here, alas, holds hardly any magic. The contrasting, dancing section of this movement is better, though, and the music’s difficulties as Messiaen layers his birdsong relentlessly seems to inspire the players to their best. A pity they do not realise as well the monumental bass explosions of the brief “Amen du jugement”; sadly, the recording also has a hand in muting their efforts. The final “Amen de la consommation”, that carillon of transported joy, again misses its remit. The final pages remain stubbornly studio-bound.
Ultimately, overall this version left me untouched - the exact reverse of the effect this piece should have.
Colin Clarke 

Ultimately, overall this version left me untouched - the exact reverse of the effect this piece should have.