Messiaen Vingt Regards sur l'enfant-Jesus

Hatto takes her place among the greats

Author: 
Bryce Morrison

Messiaen Vingt Regards sur l'enfant-Jesus

  • (20) Regards sur l'enfant Jésus

Joyce Hatto's CD legacy may be mired in controversy (“the forgeries of jealousy”?) but there is nothing controversial about recordings which surely place her among an elite of women pianists (only six artists of comparable stature spring to mind). Nor is there anything debatable about a wealth of tributes from composers and pianists (Hindemith, Tippett, Vaughan Williams and Britten; Cortot, Haskil, Rubinstein and Richter). All these would surely have been among the first to salute one of her final offerings, made shortly before she succumbed to the cancer that had plagued her for so many years. And whether you consider Messiaen's Vingt regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus a true, delirious devotional epic or find it insufferably gaudy and banal (opinion remains divided, although this outsize work long ago entered the mainstream repertoire), you can only marvel at the glory of Hatto's reading. Her playing recreates Messiaen's vision with a fervour and generosity unknown to even her finest competitors (Peter Serkin, Steven Osborne). Never for a moment does she succumb to the sort of vainglorious virtuosity or faux-impressionism that disfigures too many other recordings but she achieves a musical honesty and integrity that resists all compromise. Hear her in “Regard de la Croix”, where her breadth and sensitivity recreate a pain both personal and universal. She is no less masterly in the clangorous uproar of “Noël” (small wonder that Messiaen considered Albéniz “parmi les étoiles”, and never more so than in “Lavapiès” from Iberia) and in the Lisztian obsessive wheeling around and tireless elaboration of a single idea in “Le baiser de l'Enfant-Jésus”. Hatto's integrity to the score is unfailing but so, too, is her very recognisable strength of character and personality. Completing this cycle, and so clearly near the end of her life, she may, perhaps, have echoed Fauré's words: “I have done what I could…and so, judge, my God.”

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