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
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)
A solitaire in French is a single mounted jewel, a concept that seems less than apt for the rather hefty works recorded here by British pianist Kathryn Stott. But this fine recital holds together in another way: Ravel, who so often provides the temporal endpoint for traditional piano recitals, is here, to a greater or lesser extent, the launching point for the other three composers featured. Stott's reading of the neoclassical Le Tombeau de Couperin is beautifully precise and balanced, catching the economy of this Baroque-style suite to the hilt. That economy carries over into the later works, even the rarely performed Piano Sonata of Henri Dutilleux, a work that deftly fuses Ravel's sense of classical forms with a largely dissonant language. The opening Prelude and Fugue of Jehan Alain, actually two separate works that are reasonably enough combined here, is another seldom-played piece that makes an arresting curtain-raiser, and the final "Le baiser de l'Enfant Jésus" of Messiaen, part of the giant Vingt regards sur l'Enfant Jésus, is the splendid climax of the whole, its spiritual, dreamlike ascent at the end superbly controlled.