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Messiaen: Catalogue d'oiseaux / Martin Zehn

Release Date: 09/12/2006 
Label:  Arte Nova   Catalog #: 721220   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Martin Zehn
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Martin Zehn's traversal of Messiaen's complete Catalogue D'Oiseaux was released by Arte Nova in 2000, and is now repackaged with an eye-catching cover photo. The performances are outstanding--technically fastidious and stylistically right on. Zehn understands how to shape and inflect each and every birdsong reference so that the patterns dance as well as sing. Listen, for example, to Le Loriot, where the Garden Warblers engage in lively, ambidextrous dialogues, and notice Zehn's vivid characterization of the mating mallards pitted in the lower register at the outset of Le Merele De Roche. In the third piece, also notice Zehn's fluid, unmechanical treatment of fast-moving chords and arpeggios representing Thekla larks and the Blue Rock Read more Thrush.

The cycle's longest piece, Le rousserolle effarvatte, often can sound sectionalized and static, yet Zehn's sustained concentration holds your attention as much as Peter Serkin's equally great (albeit more colorful and personalized) RCA recording. To be sure, Zehn (like his American Messiaenic counterpart Paul Kim on Centaur) is not a colorist like Naxos' Hakan Austbo, and the latter's more sensual pianism is abetted by warmer, more ample sonics. For this reason I still opt for Austbo as the safe budget Catalogue D'Oiseaux of choice, along with the fact that Naxos fills out Disc 3 with the composer's late birdsong piano opus Petites esquisses d'oiseaux. And I can't resist Anatol Ugorski's more idiosyncratic, flamboyant, and neo-Lisztian performances available from DG at budget price, where Messaien's aviary escapes from the churchyard to frolic in the ballpark. Yet in the scheme of things, Martin Zehn's mature, serious-minded artistry and dedication deserve plenty of admiration and respect.

--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Catalogue d'oiseaux by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Martin Zehn (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956-1958; France 

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