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Olivier Messiaen 1908-2008

Messiaen 100th Anniversary / Various (Box)
Release Date: 11/24/2008 
Label:  Warner Classics   Catalog #: 17466  
Composer:  Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Michel BéroffJeanne LoriodYvonne LoriodWolfgang Meyer,   ... 
Conductor:  André PrevinSerge BaudoAntal DorátiSimon Rattle,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony OrchestraOrchestre de ParisBBC Symphony Orchestra,   ... 
Number of Discs: 14 
Recorded in: Mixed 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

A wide-ranging anthology of dazzling variety and mixed vintage.

Naxos was the pathfinder with budget CDs where Saga and CFP did the same duty for LPs. Others have taken up their example. Brilliant Classics arrogated to themselves the fame of the super-budget classics box and, with the pattern set, competitors and colleagues have like reluctant children followed. EMI under this double pressure are a force to be reckoned with once their dander is up. They have the archives to flatten almost any competition and have rapidly amassed a major line in low price boxes stuffed to the rafters with delectable goodies garnered from a treasury second to none. Interesting that EMI have also, in parallel, fed Brilliant with licensed
Read more deals over the years including the Sawallisch Brahms, the Muti Scriabin and Tchaikovsky and the Martinon, Saint-Saëns, Ravel and Debussy. Commercial pragmatism is alive and kicking.

In order to get some attention paid to this massive box I have had to sample and select. This is not a case where I have listened to every or indeed most tracks - so be aware. I am however familiar with quite a few of these recordings over the years and the box does indeed span more than four decades - LP to cassette to CD - analogue to SQ to digital.

Rather like their stupendous Britten box, EMI's set can be seen as an alternative and indeed select Messiaen. If you want something that is a closer approach to comprehensive then seek out - if you can find it anywhere - that massive DG Messiaen box lauded by Patrick Waller. I wish I had snapped that one up. Also don't forget the two Decca-Universal boxes.

Messiaen was born in Avignon. A devout Catholic he wove worship and awe brilliantly into all he wrote. His first great success came in 1931 and was Les Offrandes. That year he was appointed organist at Église de la Sainte-Trinité, Paris and that instrument runs riot and reflection through his catalogue. In July 1940 he was in captivity in a camp in Silesia where he famously he wrote and had premiered his Quatuor pour le fin du temps - heard here in a commanding up-close recording and performance. The Koussevitsky-commissioned Turangalila - premiered by Bernstein - is the work by which he is best known by those who approach him through the concert hall. Among the themes that gripped and obsessed Messiaen were mathematical patterning, mystery (as in Éclairs sur l'au-delà) and birdsong - the latter experienced for example through Chronochromie.

I have heard rather a lot of CD1 of late. It was most recently encountered in the Previn Great Recordings box (10CDs) on EMI. Previn was riding the high wave in 1977 when made his Turangalila with Loriod and Béroff. This set is a very economical way of adding this vintage Previn recording to your collection. His Turangalila was an early recording for the work, shaking off the distant eminence of the ancient Vega set but more especially challenging the Ozawa version on RCA which had long held sway. The playing is eruptively technicoloured and can stand comparison with much more modern recordings. The ondes martenot does perhaps sound a little literal - like a swanee whistle and the bass is not as extended as you would get from a more modern effort such as from Chung on DG or even from Rattle on a later EMI. Still it's wonderfully enjoyable and the mystery of Turangalila is communicated strongly.

Then we encounter orchestral friends from the wild periphery and those hoary LP days: Doráti's BBCSO Gulbenkian-funded Chronochromie (rec. 1964) and Baudo's Les Offrandes and Et Exspecto (rec. 1968) with the Orchestre du Paris. Les Offrandes recalls, in its unusually succinct way, the slow prayerful adagios of Panufnik but with a more Bergian strain. The parallel holds good for the Polish composer's manic angry explosive movements encased, as here, between whispered hymns. Et exspecto is from the same 1968 sessions attended by the composer. The gamelan influence is unmistakable in the Ils ressusciteront movement with the percussion parts played throughout by Ensemble de Percussion de l'Orchestre de Paris. The work’s excoriating ecstatic dissonance makes this one of Messiaen's most uncompromising pieces. We move from the diffuse acoustic of Salle Wagram to Abbey Road for the astonishingly transparent and fragmented glassy Chronochromie with its bruisingly angular Stravinskianisms in collision with birdsong. It is superbly done in a dazzle of shrapnel by Dorati and the well-attuned BBCSO.

The orchestral representation continues in the hands of Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil in the hour-long Éclairs sur l'au-delà. This is the most recent recording here - it was made in the Philharmonie in 2004. It was performed by the NYPO only six months after the composer's death. Mysticism and eternity groan out in pain and ecstasy. La Constellation du Sagittaire deploys the violins sweetly - as does Demeurer dans L'Amour amid birdsong and chamber delicate whistlings. L'Oiseau Lyre recalls the violent plungings of Turangalila. This is a fantastic journey which in its cataclysm and spectral beauty might make it an apt soundtrack to Poe's novel "The Mystery of Arthur Gordon Pym". The final movement of eleven - Le Christ, lumière du paradis is one of the great passages in Western music. It is a yearning portrayal - a slowly blooming rapturous benediction carried by singing violins.

Included on the Quatuor disc is the rarely heard Thème et Variations for violin and piano. It's a recent-ish recording of a work of sinuous delight. It uses a less challenging language than its contemporaries of the 1930s. Birdsong and dissonance return for Le Merle Noir. Béroff's Preludes and Vingt Regards - the latter straddling CD 5 and 6 - are potent versions with some slight allowance having to be made for the analogue stock. CD 7 moves from Béroff's Odysseyan Vingt Regards to Rabinovitch and Argerich's fissile Visions de l'Amen - a gamelan-inflected series of temple meditations recorded with sturdy power and silky subtlety The bell-tower clangorous drive and nuanced delicacy - especially in Amen du Désir make this a very special document. The 1989 recording is astonishing - just that shade more stable and rooted than Béroff in the dissonant Quatre Etudes du Rythme recorded in Salle Wagram by Béroff in 1978. Do not forget the composer's own recording from the 1950s preserved on FMR Records.

The 14th and last disc in the set is a 1990-recorded recital around Terry Edwards' skilled and sensitive conducting of various permutations of the London Sinfonietta and its satellite choirs. The dazzling and colourfully orchestrated Trois petites liturgies feature Rolf Hind (piano), Cynthia Millar (ondes martenot) with many passages related to the curve and wildness of Turangalila. The purely choral Cinq Rechants - is something of a vocal ultima thule in the Messiaen treasury with its enthusiastic experimentation. O sacrum convivium! closes the collection with an almost sentimental and not at all dissonant counterpart to Delius and Allegri. Utterly beautiful.

The authoritative voice of the composer as organist can be sampled at length in Le Banquet Céleste, Diptyque, Apparition de l'Église éternelle, L'Ascension, La Nativité du Seigneur, Les Corps Glorieux, Messe de la pentecôte and Livre d'orgue - all from sessions in June and July 1956 at Église de la Sainte-Trinité, Paris.

Far from deserving of disdain are 'stragglers' such as John Ogdon's 1972 Cantéyodjaya - part of a wackily miscellaneous LP box - which stirred memories of Messiaen pu[pil, Jacques Charpentier's monumental Etudes Karnatiques, Emmanuel Pahud's solo flute Le Merle Noir and Naji Hakim's 1997 Dieu Parmi Nous and Prière après la Communion from Sainte-Trinité. All the organ recordings - including Hakim's - were made there in Messiaen's accustomed church and using his favoured instrument. Those composer-played organ solos from the composer's most verdant years are astonishing things to have and of all of them as experienced on discs 8-11 I direct you to the meditative Alleluias sereins from L'Ascension and the shattered stained glass and coruscating explosions of sunlight of Transports de joie. If you have 'issues' with the organ be aware that this set includes four discs taken up with that instrument. Along with the orchestra it was Messiaen's natural habitat - his domain.  

Unlike EMI's parallel Collectors' Edition series this set has excellent, newly written liner-notes by Roger Nichols.

The three final discs of songs and other vocal settings are unsupported with written texts. The Michèle Command/Petit mélodies from 1977 sessions are done with real feeling and technical accuracy by the steady-toned Command. Both soprano and pianist were strongly recorded in the Salle Wagram. These songs, especially the 1930s Poèmes pour Mi and Chants de Terre et de Ciel, chart the shadowy line between the heartland of French mélodies and Messiaen's ecstatic dissonance. Harawi (love-song that ends in the death of the lovers) which takes up the whole of CD 13 is assertively and plangently dissonant as well as accommodating some fairly avant-garde effects such as the obsessive matte iterations of Doundou tchi. Like the Etudes de Rythme on CD 7, Harawi carries a redolence of the Far East and in this sense can be compared with works by Charpentier, Cras and Tomasi. They were all composers, in various measures, fascinated by Indochine and other parts of the Far East - the Départements Outre-Mers of France's imperial glory.

Thus the set offers many Messiaen landmark scores but of necessity omits more than a few. The most notable of these are Des Canyons aux Étoiles and the opera St Francis.

Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International

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Works on This Recording

1. Turangalîla-Symphonie by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Michel Béroff (Piano), Jeanne Loriod (Ondes Martenot)
Conductor:  André Previn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1946-1948; France 
Date of Recording: 07/1977 
2. Les offrandes oubliées by Olivier Messiaen
Conductor:  Serge Baudo
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestre de Paris
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; France 
Date of Recording: 03/1968 
3. Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum by Olivier Messiaen
Conductor:  Serge Baudo
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestre de Paris
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964; France 
Date of Recording: 03/1968 
4. Chronochromie by Olivier Messiaen
Conductor:  Antal Doráti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; France 
Date of Recording: 1964 
5. Éclairs sur l'au-delà... by Olivier Messiaen
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987-1991; France 
Date of Recording: 06/2004 
6. Quatuor pour la fin du temps by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Yvonne Loriod (Piano), Wolfgang Meyer (Clarinet), Christoph Poppen (Violin),
Manuel Fischer-Dieskau (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; Silesia, Poland 
Date of Recording: 11/1990 
7. Thème et Variations for Violin and Piano by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Christoph Poppen (Violin), Yvonne Loriod (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932; France 
Date of Recording: 11/1990 
8. Le merle noir by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Emmanuel Pahud (Flute), Eric Le Sage (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1951; France 
Date of Recording: 02/1997 
9. Preludes (8) for Piano by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Michel Béroff (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929; France 
Date of Recording: 1978 
10. Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jésus by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Michel Béroff (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; France 
Date of Recording: 1969 
11. Visions de l'amen by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Martha Argerich (Piano), Alexandre Rabinovitch (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943; France 
Date of Recording: 12/1989 
12. Quatre études de rhythme by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Michel Béroff (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; France 
Date of Recording: 1978 
13. Cantéyodjayâ by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  John Ogdon (Piano)
Written: 1948 
Date of Recording: 07/1972 
14. Le banquet céleste by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Olivier Messiaen (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; France 
Date of Recording: 06/1956 
15. Diptyque for Organ by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Olivier Messiaen (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; France 
Date of Recording: 06/1956 
16. Apparition de l'église éternelle by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Olivier Messiaen (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932; France 
Date of Recording: 06/1956 
17. L'Ascension, 4 Meditations for Organ by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Olivier Messiaen (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; France 
Date of Recording: 06/1956 
18. La nativité du Seigneur by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Olivier Messiaen (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; France 
Date of Recording: 06/1956 
19. La nativité du Seigneur: no 9, Dieu parmi nous by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Naji Hakim (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; France 
Date of Recording: 03/06/1997 
20. Livre du Saint Sacrement: no 16, Prière après la Communion by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Olivier Messiaen (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1984; France 
Date of Recording: 03/06/1997 
21. Les corps glorieux by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Olivier Messiaen (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; France 
Date of Recording: 06/27/1956 
22. Messe de la Pentecôte by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Olivier Messiaen (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; France 
Date of Recording: 07/26/1956 
23. Livre d'orgue by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Olivier Messiaen (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1951; France 
Date of Recording: 07/26/1956 
24. La mort du nombre by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Andrew Watkinson (Violin), Philip Langridge (Tenor), Ann Murray (Mezzo Soprano),
Roger Vignoles (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; France 
Date of Recording: 02/1990 
25. Mélodies (3) by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Marie-Madeleine Petit (Piano), Michèle Command (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; France 
Date of Recording: 12/1977 
26. Poèmes pour Mi by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Michèle Command (Soprano), Marie-Madeleine Petit (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; France 
Date of Recording: 12/1977 
27. Chants de Terre et de Ciel by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Michèle Command (Soprano), Marie-Madeleine Petit (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938; France 
Date of Recording: 12/1977 
28. Petites liturgies (3) de la Présence Divine by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Cynthia Millar (Ondes Martenot), Rolf Hind (Piano)
Conductor:  Terry Edwards
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Sinfonietta,  London Sinfonietta Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; France 
Date of Recording: 08/1990 
29. Harawi by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Michèle Command (Soprano), Marie-Madeleine Petit (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945; France 
Date of Recording: 12/1977 
30. Rechants (5) by Olivier Messiaen
Conductor:  Terry Edwards
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Sinfonietta Voices
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; France 
Date of Recording: 08/1990 
31. O sacrum convivium! by Olivier Messiaen
Conductor:  Terry Edwards
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Sinfonietta Voices
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; France 
Date of Recording: 08/1990 

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