Saint François d'Assise is unique among operas. Decidedly anti-dramatic (there is little or no action), it fulfills Messiaen's aim to present the journey of St. Francis' soul toward grace. St Francis advises another monk, Brother Leon; he meets a leper, kisses and cures him; he encounters an angel; he preaches to the birds; he prays for and receives the Stigmata; he dies. The tempo, save for a few moments, remains stubbornly moderate; if you do not give in to this fact and wish for something else, you're lost.
–Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Along with Wit's Naxos recording, this is one of the best versions of Messiaen's phantasmagoric Turangalîla-Symphonie available, and it's very different: swifter, more obviously virtuosic in concept, perhaps a touch less warm in consequence, and engineered with greater “in your face” immediacy. The playing of the Concertgebouw, always a wonderful Messiaen orchestra, is stunning throughout. Chailly revels in the music's weirdness. The Ondes Martinot, for example, is particularly well captured. It's interesting how earlier performances tended to minimize its presence, perhaps for fear that is would sound silly, which of course it does, redeemed by the composer's utter seriousness and obliviousness to anything that smacks of humor. In any case, it's not all noise and bluster. The Garden of Love's Sleep is gorgeous, hypnotic, but happily still flowing, while the three Turangalîla rhythmic studies have remarkable clarity. Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays the solo piano part magnificently, really as well as anyone else ever has.
Pianist Bruce Levingston is artistic director for a New York organization that commissions new music and one of the works commissioned by that group was Philip Glass' A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close, given its world-premiere recording on this album. Levingston suggested the idea to Glass of a musical tribute to the painter after viewing Close's painting of Glass. The piece is in two movements, the first of which is full of alternations – between major and minor, between meters, between a rocking figure and running scales – that give it an overall chiaroscuro effect.
Messiaen's Catalog of Birds for piano is one of the wonders of modern music, a work apart from schools, movement, intellectual constructions, and programmatic declarations concerning the future of music. Perhaps the engaging, enigmatic, spellbinding nature of this music proceeds from Messiaen's unique source of inspiration: birdsong. Non-human, the source of Messiaen's music is nevertheless not alien since Messiaen celebrates the sounds of nature, which he, as a devout Catholic, experiences as a divine creation. It's difficult to imagine a better interpreter of Messiaen's powerful visions than pianist Anatol Ugorski, who plunges himself into Messiaen's spiritual universe with the passionate abandon of a devoted seeker.
The organ compositions of Olivier Messiaen firmly established the composer as a figure of 20th century music. This release features his well-known works L’Ascension and Le banquet celeste, along with two pieces which were discovered posthumously in 1997, Offrande au Saint-Sacrement, and Prelude. Organist Tom Winpenny does an outstanding job in these performances, which were recorded at the organ at St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Steven Osborne continues his enthralling performances of Messiaen's piano works, with Martin Roscoe joining him for the two-piano Visions de l'Amen. The two of them are flawlessly matched in their strength, control, and range of expression, even though for much of the work the two piano parts are largely independent. They move together from twinkling, distant starlight passages to powerful, brilliant solar flare-like passages. Osborne and Roscoe, although painting large pictures in the seven movements, demand that attention be paid to the details in the music.
"…Each gesture, each interpretive nuance – and there are numerous reminders that Innig’s performance is personal and distinct – serves to enhance Messiaen’s faith. So one cannot escape the devout mystery and probity that Rudolf Innig brings in such full measure to the Livre du Saint Sacrement. This performance promises to invigorate the soul." (Fanfare)