One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount



CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Visions de L’Amen (1943) [46:00]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
En blanc et noir (1915) [14:42]
Ursula Oppens (piano I), Jerome Lowenthal (piano II)
rec. 3-4, 7 June 2009, American Academy of Arts and Letters
CEDILLE RECORDS CDR 90000 119 [60:51]

Experience Classicsonline

As fans of Messiaen’s Visions de L’Amen will know, it is a tricky business, elevating such demanding piano duo music not only into the realms of technical excellence, but also creating an atmosphere of spiritual exaltation and transcendence. I’ve been having a fish through the versions lurking in my collection, reminding myself of the beautifully played but surprisingly lightweight recording on Unicorn-Kanchana by Peter Hill and Benjamin Frith, and the high quality but still somewhat dry and dated version with John Ogdon and Brenda Lucas, now available on the Explore label. There is also the rather brutally punishing version with Maarten Bon and Reinbert de Leeuw in a tremendous box from Naïve. The best all-round recording I have had to date is that of Paul and Matthew Kim on the Centaur label, though I’m making no claims as to its having definitive status – I think I’ve yet to find a recording which really nails Messiaen’s vision, though Messiaen and Yvonne Loriod make their own unique case, and Steven Osborne and Martin Roscoe on Hyperion are world-beaters. Arguably, the medium of two pianos is after all just not the right one with which to achieve such Visions, but who am I to utter such heresy.
The recorded balance in this new disc with Ursula Oppens and Jerome Lowenthal is richer and more lower-mid heavy than with the Kim family. This serves the bass notes well, and makes the overall effect less clattering than some. There is still plenty of rhythmic impact however, and the mix stops well short of being woolly and indistinct. The American Academy of Arts and Letters acoustic is familiar through numerous chamber music recordings. While our noses are closer than they would be to the piano strings than in a concert setting and the hall resonance less relevant, the perspective is direct and believable.
Ursula Oppens is a familiar name in the contemporary music scene, having premiered a remarkable quantity of new music by a distinguished list of composers. Jerome Lowenthal is a less well known name, to me at least, but has been a part of the US music scene since the early 1960s both as a soloist and pedagogue. This pairing is thoroughly equal, and the warmth and energetic synergy between the players is palpable. Do they achieve that transcendent sense of ecstasy we all seem to be looking for in the Visions de L’Amen? I have the feeling that this can have a deal to do with the state of mind you are in when approaching such a recording, but this can be said of much music. This is a recording which rewards experiencing as a whole far more than dipping. I have to admit to being something of a litmus-test listener when initially tackling this kind of grand mountain of music, and had a few doubts at first. Having settled down and decided to listen properly, the sheer scale of the Oppens/Lowenthal performance reveals less a set of seven separate Visions, rather one huge canvas which leaves you staggered and breathless by the end. Yes, all of the elements are present, ranging from the dark atmospheric effects of the opening Amen de la Création, through a weighty Amen des étoiles… and a beautifully lyrical Amen du Désir. The widely ranging Amen des anges, des saints, du chant des oiseaux is handled well, the remarkable contrasts rapid and inspirational. Our souls thus softened, the final two massive movements, the Amen du Jugement and Amen de la Consommation really are a kick in the solar plexus. Yes, the music is written to be so, but I’ve rarely heard the sheer impact with quite such a physical effect as here. The pay-off for that richer piano sound is a reduced level of funkyness in the rhythmic power of the final movement, something which Paul Kim and Son do very well indeed. The deepest bass becomes something of a noisy roar with the balance for Oppens/Lowenthal, but this is still pretty daunting stuff.
Debussy’s En blanc et noir caused something of a stir amongst a conservative older generation of composers in the Paris of 1915, and Jerome Lowenthal’s booklet notes open with the crusty criticisms of Camille Saint-Saëns. Nearly 100 years later, and our ears are by no means as scandalised by music which is filled with sparkling wit, atmospheric tragedy and the juxtaposition of innocent and sinister expression in its respective three movements. Tinged with the effects of war, there are military calls and other references all through this powerful work, and the logic of placing it against Messiaen’s Visions de L’Amen is entirely credible. This is far more than just a filler, and is very well played here by the Oppens/Lowenthal duo. They bring out the little Stravinskian touches and colour in the polytonal elements with precise and lively observation – great stuff, but no wonder Saint-Saëns threw a wobbly.
This is a very well recorded and superbly performed disc, and comes highly recommended. Is it the definitive Visions de L’Amen? Does such a thing exist? Right now I don’t care all that much, this is certainly the best recording of the work in my current collection.
Dominy Clements






















Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.