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Messiaen: Preludes & Etudes / Martin Zehn

Release Date: 03/22/2005 
Label:  Arte Nova   Catalog #: 578330   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Martin Zehn
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 6 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Olivier Messiaen’s style was both consistent and varied, as this powerful set of solo piano music demonstrates. The pairing of the rarely heard Preludes and the Quatre études de rythme is highly instructive in this regard, and the comparison to Debussy is unavoidable. It is hard to imagine that Messiaen did not consider the model of the great master in his own conceptions of his Preludes and Études. In the case of both composers, the Preludes represent the sensual, more colorful side of their work, while the Études are harder edged, more intellectual, cooler. These Preludes are early works, written when Messiaen was 21, but the signature of the composer is already unmistakable, although he had not yet incorporated Asian Read more music and bird-song into his music. Messiaen belongs to a handful of 20th-century masters whose voice is so distinct that it rings out from the beginning of a career to an end, such as is the case with Stravinsky and Shostakovich.

Just as most music-lovers prefer the easier-to-absorb Preludes of Debussy to his Études, the Preludes of Messiaen are the most accessible music in this collection. This is not to say that this music is simple; the bold harmonic sensibility and extreme delicacy of expression, within an essentially Romantic framework, presages similar effects in later masterworks such as Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus. His allusions to color are also striking, as are his inspirations sourced from nature. He speaks of the use of orange, violet, copper, mauve, and gray in this work. Individual titles include “intangible sounds of the dream,” “quiet lament,” and “reflection in the wind.” At the height of his powers, Messiaen was capable of evoking a kind of supernatural beauty that hearkens back to late Beethoven. That magical ability was already evident in the work of the 21-year-old genius. The Études display another facet of Messiaen’s world, wherein percussive, even violent sound becomes a part of the expressive language. These four pieces were written in 1949 and 1950, directly inspired by the wild and exotic atmosphere of Papua and New Guinea. The savage energy of Canéyodjayâ, written in 1948, is very much in the sound world of the Études.

Berlin-born pianist Martin Zehn is working on a complete recording of the solo piano music of Messiaen. He has already released Catalogue d’oiseaux and Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus, neither of which I have heard, but if they are on the level of his playing on this disc, they should be excellent. Like a young Peter Serkin, Zehn has an intrinsic grasp of the mysterious beauty of this music, with a specialized technique to express Messiaen’s enormous dynamic range. Remarkably, this very program is duplicated by Naxos, with the estimable Håkon Austbø playing. More remarkable still, the Arte Nova release usually sells for less than the Naxos.

Peter Burwasser, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Preludes (8) for Piano by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Martin Zehn (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929; France 
Cantéyodjayâ by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Martin Zehn (Piano)
Written: 1948 
Études (4) de rhythme by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Martin Zehn (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; France 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Very very good March 29, 2013 By Dr. Mitchell Gurk (Spencer, MA) See All My Reviews "Sensitive performance. The music itself is deceptive. Wallpaper at first hearing, or soporific and sentimental like Satie can be. With repeated hearings: dramatic, creative, complex. As we expect from Messiaen." Report Abuse
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