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Messiaen: La Fête Des Belles Eaux, Feuillet Inédits; Ravel

Release Date: 11/18/2008 
Label:  Atma Classique   Catalog #: 2621   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Olivier MessiaenMaurice Ravel
Performer:  Louise BessetteEstelle LemireJean LaurendeauGeneviève Grenier,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble d'Ondes de Montréal
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MESSIAEN Fête des belles eaux. 1 Feuillets inédits. 2 RAVEL String Quartet: Mvmt 1 1 Ens d’Ondes de Montreal; 1 Louise Larose (ondes Martenot); 1 Jean Laurendeau (ondes Martenot); 1 Estelle Read more Lemire (ondes Martenot); 2 Louise Bessette (pn) 2 ATMA 2621 (55:19)

Color—instrumental timbre—was, like rhythm, an indispensable, defining characteristic of Olivier Messiaen’s music throughout his career. He visualized colors corresponding to musical pitches, and composed with regard to the specific tonal qualities of particular instruments (as opposed to those who compose, say, at the piano, and orchestrate afterwards). With a compositional aesthetic that embraced not only various musics from around the world but also the sounds of nature and what he imagined those of heaven to be, it’s understandable that he would wish to expand the palette of instrumental colors at his disposal. To this end, he was an early advocate of the ondes Martenot, an electroacoustic instrument invented by Maurice Martenot in the 1920s. In conversation with Claude Samuel ( Olivier Messiaen: Music and Color , Amadeus Press), he acknowledged that he admired its “limitless possibilities of attacks, dynamics” and “ability to create thousands of timbres,” including “effects that are absolutely terrifying, even harrowing, at full volume and, conversely, are ethereally haloed when used softly.” Most Messiaen fans will recognize these traits from the instrument’s use in the opera Saint François d’Assise , the Trois petites liturgies de la présence divine , and especially the Turangalîla-Symphonie , where it is responsible for some of the most tender whispers and ecstatic swoops imaginable.

Lesser known are the works he composed exclusively for the ondes Martenot, the most ambitious of these being Fête des belles eaux , an eight-movement suite for six ondes Martenots, commissioned for the Paris Exhibition of 1937 and intended to be synchronized to a light and water show. (Since it is capable of sounding only one note at a time, multiple instruments are required to sound chords and create contrapuntal effects.) As might be expected from one of the 20th century’s most brilliant composers for and improvisers on the organ, Messiaen’s music for Fête des belles eaux resembles such contemporaneous compositions as La nativité du Seigneur and Les corps glorieux , alternating between joyful, spirited dances and haunting chromatic meditations—especially the sixth movement’s angelic aria (“L’eau”), which four years later he adapted for cello and piano as “Louange à l’eternité de Jésus” in the Quatuor pour la fin du temps. But Messiaen also took advantage of the ondes Martenot’s varied timbres, creating tones reminiscent of oboe, flute, bass recorder, harmonium, and even glass harmonica.

Messiaen used the ondes Martenot much more conservatively in the four brief Feuillets inédits , transcribed after his death by his widow Yvonne Loriod. These are very much in the style of violin and piano duets, with characteristic birdsong appearing in the accompanying piano-writing, though the echoed timbre of the ondes Martenot adds a ghostly ambiance. Instead of completing the disc with his two remaining works for the instrument, Deux monodies en quarts de ton (1938) and Musique de scène pour un Oedipe (1942), which would have increased the importance of the release, we are given an arrangement for four ondes Martenots of the first movement of Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet, apparently sanctioned by the composer himself. Ravel’s approval notwithstanding, the transcription is a curiosity but not an improvement, with dusky timbres replacing the sparkle of the strings.

Nevertheless, Fête des belles eaux has its exotic charms, and deserves to be heard.

FANFARE: Art Lange
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Works on This Recording

Feuillets inédits (4) for Piano and Onde Martenot by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Louise Bessette (Piano), Estelle Lemire (Ondes Martenot)
Quartet for Strings in F major: 1st movement, Moderato très doux by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Jean Laurendeau (Ondes Martenot), Geneviève Grenier (Ondes Martenot), Suzanne Binet-Audet (Ondes Martenot),
Louise Larose (Ondes Martenot), Marie Bernard (Ondes Martenot), Estelle Lemire (Ondes Martenot)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble d'Ondes de Montréal
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1902-1903; France 
La fête des belles eaux by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Estelle Lemire (Ondes Martenot), Jean Laurendeau (Ondes Martenot), Geneviève Grenier (Ondes Martenot),
Suzanne Binet-Audet (Ondes Martenot), Louise Larose (Ondes Martenot), Marie Bernard (Ondes Martenot)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble d'Ondes de Montréal
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; France 

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