Tuesday, July 01, 2008

CD Review: Olivier Messiaen: Never Before Released

A few months ago an NLM reader sent me two CD's from Jade Records, the first of which contains selections of the work of Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), none of which had ever before been released on CD. It can be found here.

Lovers of Messiaen's music will find on this record a number of charming new surprises, along with some works with which they are likely familiar. A number of the tracks feature Messiaen's widow, Yvonne Loriod, including the first, La Mort du Nombre, along with the Prelude pour Piano, Piece pour Piano et Quatuor a Cordes, Le Merle Noir (for piano and flute), 4 Inedits pour Piano et Onde Martenot (a fascinating sound!), the Piece pour le Tombeau de Dukas, and the Chant dans le Style Mozart.

In this last-named selection, Mdme. Loriod collaborates with clarinetist Guy Deplus in a surprisingly simple work. Play this for your friends and they will never guess the right composer. Those who suffer allergic reactions to Messiaen's harmonic language will even like this tonally conventional piece. Its one weakness may be that it does not bear repeated listening so well--but to be truthful, I listened to it every day for two weeks before I began to feel that way.

The famous Lebanese-born organist Naji Hakim, a onetime student of Messiaen's classmate Jean Langlais, also makes several appearances on this album. He records Offrande du Saint Sacrament, the Prelude pour Orgue--a piece that I had never heard before and which seems reasonably accessible for beginning Messiaen listeners, and Monodie.

This CD concludes with Chant des Deportes, recorded by the BBC Orchestra and Choir, which Messiaen was commissioned to write in celebration of the release of prisoners from the concentration camps in 1945. Messiaen, himself a prisoner of war during the Second Chapter of Europe's suicide drama, was well-equipped with the personal experience necessary to write both words and music for this work.

This little collection of Messiaen works is to be recommended unreservedly for one and all. In it the new listener of his oeuvre will find a portal into this great composer's world, and the experienced listener will stumble upon some delightful surprises.

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