Notes and Editorial Reviews
Olivier Messiaen remains one of the luckiest composers on discs. His works are all widely performed and recorded by dedicated artists prepared to do them full justice. The music's very personal, hieratic style, which limits the range of interpretive options available (especially in the large ensemble works) essentially to matters of tempo and rhythmic accuracy, also goes a long way to ensuring a certain uniformly high quality of results. Either the performers can do it and do it well, or they can't do it at all. Heaven knows, Myung-Whun Chung and his Radio France forces can!
Of all Messiaen's large works (save for the opera St. Francis), La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ remains the least
frequently performed and recorded, a result of its length and complexity, as well as the huge demands made on the chorus. The slightly wonky text, compiled from various inspirational sources including the Gospels and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, also probably hasn't eased its acceptance in a world where most "religious" music means saccharine harmonies and an easy listening approach to dynamics. The very opening, with its crashing gongs and tam-tams (well-differentiated in timbre and pitch in this performance), shows that this composer means business and isn't going to make any stylistic compromises. Indeed, one of Messiaen's great accomplishments lies in his expanding the notion of what "religious" music can be.
Chung and his forces do the work proud. As often is the case, the women of the chorus sound fuller and a bit more confident than the men, but they acquit themselves admirably as a body, and the orchestra plays splendidly. All of the various soloists (especially Roger Muraro on piano and the three mallet players) display impressive concentration and bravura in their numerous birdsong imitations (check out the sixth movement's organized chaos!), while Chung shapes a very convincing and, yes, even personal interpretation.
Unlike Reinbert de Leeuw's equally superb (and even more rhythmically precise) rendition on Montaigne, Chung finds more lyricism in the music than you might believe possible. He's slower and more aptly "chant-like" in the various movements marked "Récit évangélique", and swifter in many of the others, most notably the final Choral de la lumière de Gloire, and this gives the music an additional lift and a greater sense of internal contrast both within and between movements. He's also excellently recorded, the sound offering fine balances and plenty of impact in a warmly resonant space. So if you enjoy Messiaen and have yet to discover this particular piece, or you've found its two previous recordings excessively forbidding, this one might just change your mind.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ by Olivier Messiaen
Roger Muraro (Piano),
Robert Fontaine (Clarinet),
Thomas Prevost (Flute),
Éric Levionnais (Cello),
Francis Petit (Marimba),
Renaud Muzzolini (Xylophone),
Emmanuel Curt (Vibraphone)
ORTF Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1965-1969; France
Date of Recording: 09/2001
Venue: Olivier Messiaen Hall, Paris, France
Length: 99 Minutes 47 Secs.
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