Messiaen Solo Piano Works Complete
Even in these days of a vast CD catalogue‚ with small specialist companies achieving worldwide recognition‚ there can be serious failures of distribution. Until recently the French Accord label was not available in the UK: hard luck for Roger Muraro‚ who seems to record primarily for that company; harder luck for us‚ since we have been kept in ignorance of a pianist of great gifts. His recorded repertoire also includes Liszt‚ Rachmaninov and Chopin‚ and if they are on the same level as his Messiaen they could be remarkable.
Or perhaps I should speak of levels in the plural‚ since these French radio recordings were made in two different locations (the Salle Messiaen at Radio France and the auditorium of the Gennevilliers Conservatoire)‚ some with and some without an audience; these differences‚ as well as differences of microphoning‚ have affected the end result. In the Petites esquisses and the Préludes‚ for example‚ Muraro has an audience and is very closely recorded‚ so that one can hear both action noise and the pianist murmuring quietly to himself. In La Fauvette des jardins the placing of microphones is more sympathetic‚ but the presence of an audience tempts Muraro to project the tapestry of bird songs with excessive force‚ though his measured silences and his palette of colour are also both impressive.
In the Vingt Regards‚ however‚ where there seems to be no audience‚ and in the Catalogue d’oiseaux‚ where there certainly is but where the recorded sound is ideal‚ he demonstrates both formidable pianism and an outstandingly imaginative response to Messiaen’s imaginative world. In both cycles the dynamic range is wide‚ the colouring often subtly beautiful‚ the virtuosity quite breathtaking at times. As you would expect from these qualities his Cantéyodjayâ is stunning.
Is he more virtuoso than poet? Occasionally‚ and in the 18th of the Regards‚ for example (‘The Gaze of Terrible Unction’)‚ I regretted it‚ since it seemed to stand in the way of the music’s vision. But there are many passages in this cycle which respond to‚ indeed need‚ an almost Lisztian virtuosity. The huge crescendo in No 3 (‘The Exchange’) is formidably sustained‚ and in No 6 (‘By Him all was made’) nothing but tremendous brio and vitality will do‚ and Muraro supplies them in abundance. I was surprised by No 11 (‘The First Communion of the Virgin’)‚ where the cascading garlands of notes should surely be quieter; certainly the passage identifiable as ‘Messiaen’s Magnificat’ should be‚ and the whole piece could well be slower. But then the end of that piece is so beautiful‚ and the colouring of the middle section of its successor (‘The AllPowerful Word’) so exquisite‚ that one is more dismayed by the occasional failing than angered by it.
And in the Catalogue d’oiseaux the virtuoso and the poet are in ideal balanceÊ–Êmagnificent rocky landscapes‚ vivid greens and blues!Ê–Êand the recording here is even better than in the Vingt Regards. This is an outstanding reading throughout‚ and one can only echo the audience’s applause after ‘The Wood Lark’ and their cheers at ‘Cetti’s Warbler’. I would have been on my feet and stamping after the amazingly brilliant and colourful ‘Reed Warbler’ as well. Everything else here is excellent; I was particularly taken by Muraro’s handling of those pianistic hot coals‚ the Etudes de rythme‚ the first and fourth barbarously coloured‚ the second punctiliously staccato and fascinating‚ the third quite gripping in its sheer oddity.
The two big cycles are available separately‚ two discs for the Vingt Regards (465 3342)‚ three for the Catalogue (465 7682). Of the two single discs‚ that combining the Préludes and La Fauvette des jardins (461 6462) is perhaps dispensable on account of its recording‚ but 461 6452 (the Petites esquisses‚ Etudes de rythme‚ Cantéyodjayâ and four early pieces) is highly desirable. Of other complete or nearcomplete recordings that by Haakon Austbø (Naxos) is consistently reliable and imaginative (and exceptional value)‚ Peter Hill’s (UnicornKanchana) even more so but no longer available‚ alas. At his considerable best Muraro has a touch of agreeable steely flamboyance that is quite his own‚ and hugely effective.