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La Fauvette Passerinette: A Messiaen premiere with birds, landscapes and homages
Peter Hill (piano)
rec. Reid Concert Hall, University of Edinburgh, 23 March and 8 April 2014. DDD.
Full details at end of review.
DELPHIAN DCD34141 [78:56]

Peter Hill’s extensive notes in the booklet are one of the glories of this recording.  Having worked with the composer, he is well placed both to perform and comment on his music and especially to describe how he came upon the manuscript score of La fauvette passerinette, a work almost completed in 1961 to the extent that Messiaen wrote a note to himself to make a fair copy, then put aside and presumably forgot when he embarked on larger-scale works.

With no benchmark, Peter Hill’s performance of this piece is likely to prove authoritative and I also enjoyed his performances of the five other Messiaen pieces on this album, but I could wish that he had given us a complete disc of the composer’s piano works to rival his own authoritative and inexpensive earlier recording of the Catalogue d’oiseaux, Books 4-6 on Regis RRC1109 (formerly Unicorn-Kanchana, also reissued on 7 CDs, RRC7001, though not all dealers still have the multi-CD sets and those who do are asking too much) or Carl-Axel Dominique’s of all seven books, plus La fauvette des jardins and Petites Esquisses on BIS-CD-594/6.

Delphian already had a very fine 2-CD set of Messiaen’s organ music (DCD34076 – review) and a successor which I also enjoyed with small reservations (DCD34078 – review) and such an all-Messiaen disc from Hill would have been most welcome.  The Messiaen style is so distinctive that there is a very noticeable change between George Benjamin’s Fantasy (track 8) and Le traquet stapazin on track 9.  Though it’s not one of the pieces from the Catalogue d’Oiseaux that I know particularly well, I would have recognised it as Messiaen had I heard it with only half an ear while listening to Radio 3.

At times Peter Sculthorpe’s River (tr.12) comes close to the Messiaen style: as Peter Hill notes, like Messiaen it begins in the world of Debussy and Ravel but other influences are at play.  The transition from that to the newly-discovered La fauvette passerinette is not too abrupt but the Messiaen trademarks are unmistakeable, though the piece represents a development from the Catalogue d’Oiseaux. I enjoyed the work, the performance and Peter Hill’s preface to it in the notes, written in pseudo-Messiaen style.

The Ravel Oiseaux tristes makes an excellent introduction to the Messiaen pieces as illustrative of the kind of music from which Messiaen developed and the Murail and Takemitsu works were both composed in memory of the composer and accord in style with his music.  The Stockhausen pieces are relatively approachable for a composer who is normally well outside my scope, but I can’t help feeling that an opportunity was lost in not making this an all-Messiaen or more firmly Messiaen-centred recording.

I should add that Dominy Clements took a very different position, enjoying the performances of the Messiaen as much as I did but finding the whole a musical experience to treasure – review.

Excellent performances, then, of the core Messiaen works, very well recorded and even more superbly annotated in the booklet.  Please may we now have more Messiaen from Peter Hill and Delphian?  Good as his earlier recordings are and inexpensive as they are on Regis, there’s room for a newer replacement.

Brian Wilson

Previous review: Dominy Clements

Track-listing :

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Oiseaux tristes (from Miroirs, 1904-5) [4:22]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992) La Colombe (from Huit préludes, 1928-9) [2:19]; Pièce pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas (1935) [1:58]; Île de feu 1 (Quatre études de rhythme, 1949-50) [2:05]
Karlheinz STOCKHAUSEN (1928-2007) Klavierstücke VII and VIII (1954) [6:31 + 1:59]
Julian ANDERSON (b.1967) Etude No.1 [0:44]
George BENJAMIN (b.1960) Fantasy on Iambic Rhythm (1982-5) [12:20]
Olivier MESSIAEN Catalogue d’oiseaux : Le Traquet stapazin [13:55]
Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013) D’ombre et de silence [12:20]
Peter SCULTHORPE (b.1929) Stars (from Night Pieces, 1972-3) [1:39]
Douglas YOUNG (b.1947) River (from Dreamlandscapes, Book 2, 1977-85) [6:07]
Olivier MESSIAEN La Fauvette passerinette (1961: premiere recording) [11:00]
Tristan MURAIL (b.1947) Cloches d’adieu, et un sourire … (in memoriam Olivier Messiaen, 1992) [4:22]
Tôru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996) Rain Tree Sketch II (1992) [3:41]
Olivier MESSIAEN Morceau de lecture à vue (1924) [1:57]