The Messiaen centenary celebrations have brought forth much for
the listener to celebrate. Pierre-Laurent Aimard has long been
linked with the music of Messiaen - especially the Vingt Regards,
a piece despatched with much aplomb recently by Steven
Osborne at London’s Wigmore Hall.
of the Huit Préludes is individually named. The set represents
the earliest music on this disc, for it was written in 1928-9,
when the composer was still a student at the Paris Conservatoire.
First, “La Colombe” (“The Dove”), according to Aimard, who provides
the excellent booklet notes, a portrait of Messiaen’s mother,
who had recently died. “Chant d’extase dans un paysage triste”
begins from this starting point before elevating the atmosphere
towards the luminosity of some of the later piano works - particularly
the Vingt Regards. Messiaen’s French inheritance is perhaps
most obvious in the perfumes of “Les sons impalpable du rêve”,
a glance back in time that is instantly negated by the bells
of “Cloches d’angoisse et larmes d’adieu”. It is a glance that
demonstrates also Messiaen’s fascination with colour in music.
“Cloches” is the longest Prélude (9:22), an exploration of resonance inspired by the harmonics
of bells. The brief, simple “Plaine calme” acts as a refreshing
foil before “Un Reflet dans le vent …” ends the cycle in near-virtuoso
style. Aimard’s performance is as expert, polished and drenched
in the spirit of Messiaen as one would expect.
two excerpts from Catalogue d’oiseaux are magnificent.
“Le Bouscarle” (Cetti’s Warbler) is a showpiece of Messiaen’s
techniques. Aimard explores its unpredictabilities, like a bird
in flight, with complete understanding. “L’Alouette Lulu” (Wood
Lark) is an altogether darker proposition. Aimard refers to
this movement as “a night-piece” and how right he is. Aimard’s
variety of tone is magnificent here - notice how he is unafraid
of “hard” sonorities as a valid part of his repertoire, so unlike
many pianists of today.
The stark modernism
of “Île de feu I” continues the process of the disc’s trajectory
from the instantly approachable to the more challenging. This
is Messiaen at his most avant-garde as well as representing
what Aimard rightly calls Messiaen’s “Neo-primitivism”. The
violence of the Papuans’ rituals was a direct influence here,
and Aimard pulls no punches, as the final toccata-like passages
of the final piece of the recital clearly demonstrate. Despite
this, there is an awareness that every note, every texture has
been highly considered.
in his selection, aimed to reflect the various character traits
of his Master – the gentleness (Préludes), the childlike
wonder at the natural world (Catalogue) and the hard-hitting
intellectual (Etudes de Rhythme). He succeeded in no
uncertain terms. As an introduction to the piano works of Olivier
Messiaen, this disc is a vital purchase – but it provides so
much more. Aimard’s pianism, the superb recording and above
all the sheer mastery of the music all conspire towards a very
special disc indeed.