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
Fie rrabras of 1823 is the last of Franz Schubert’s stage works. Rarely performed to this day, this heroic-romantic opera has now been staged for the first time ever at the Salzburg Festival by famous director Peter Stein. The strong cast includes the “marvellously expressive miracle Dorothea Röschmann” (Die Zeit) and “Michael Schade, who exudes his exceptional tenor in Fierrabras’s heroic arias” (Der neue Merker). Under the energetic baton of lngo Metzmacher, the Vienna Philharmonic unfold “the melos, the poetry, the sweetness and the dramatic force of Schubert’s highly refined and atmospheric sound worlds” (Kleine Zeitung) in highly romantic fashion. Bonus: The Making of Fierrabras.
"…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.
Since the end of the seventeenth century French composers have shown a particular skill and deftness of touch in writing for the flute. The instrument owes much of its prominence in French music of the twentieth century to the use made of it in orchestral colouring by composers such as Debussy and Ravel, as well as to a group of highly gifted players associated in one way or another with the Paris Conservatoire. They include the soloist on this recording, Patrick Gallois, a pupil of Jean-Pierre Rampal. This collection of works composed during the last sixty years ranges from Poulenc’s Sonata, marked by rhythmic vitality and a delicate vein of sentimentality, Messiaen’s Le merle noir, inspired by bird song, to Boulez’s Sonatine, which the composer himself has characterised as ‘organised delirium’.
The seeds for Messiaen's final organ work were sown during an inspirational trip to Israel in 1984. Over the course of the next twelve months, Messiaen found improvisation leading him back to composition after the exhausting labours that had produced his mighty opera Saint François d'Assise.The Livre du Saint Sacrement became Messiaen's grand farewell to his own instrument, and Michael Bonaventure performs it from memory here on the Rieger organ at St Giles' Cathedral, the true acoustic of which preserves the clarity of Messiaen's lines.
When, in 1931, Messiaen applied for his post as organist at La Trinité, he wrote to the curate to reassure him that he knew that ‘one must not disturb the piety of the faithful with wildly anarchic chords’. It is not known whether that curate was at La Trinité 20 years later, but it is hard to think of a more appropriate characterisation of the effect of Livre d’orgue than ‘wildly anarchic’, while Alexander Goehr has recalled how Messiaen’s organ-playing during the mid-1950s sounded like electronics. Michael Bonaventure’s playing may not have that effect, but he does get Messiaen’s music to lift off the page, even in the most rigorous pages of the Livre d’orgue. The organ of St Giles, Edinburgh, generally has the power and range of colour needed, with the fierce chords at the opening of ‘Les mains de l’abîme’ fizzing with tension. Slightly more power from the pedals would be welcome, notably in the dazzling central section of the fifth of the Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité. Generally, though, this is a delight for the ears.
Their Warner Classics debut makes clear that Christina & Michelle Naughton show great imagination in their programming: Messiaen's mystical and epic Visions de l'Amen, composed during World War II, appears alongside John Adams' boisterous and percussive Hallelujah Junction, inspired by a truck stop on the border of Nevada and California. The CD is completed with J.S. Bach's serenely moving Gotttes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106, in an arrangement by the contemporary Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag.