Messiaen Vision de l' Amen

A piano duo fully prepared to tackle Messiaen’s visions, with sound that does them full justice

Author: 
rnichols

MESSIAEN Vision de l' Amen

  • Visions de l'Amen
  • Pièce pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas
  • Rondeau
  • Fantaisie burlesque

It’s axiomatic (to use a favourite word of the French) that the Messiaens’ own 1962 disc of Visions is irreplaceable. At the same time it raises the common interpretative problem when composers play their own music: should we follow what they say in musical and verbal notes, or what they do? Such problems don’t arise with the three early pieces, which hardly show Messiaen at his best, but the metronome mark for the very slow first movement of Visions, which literally sets the groundwork for the cycle, dictates a duration of 6’15”. He and his wife Yvonne Loriod dispatch it in 4’30”. Steven Osborne and Martin Roscoe, like Peter Hill and Benjamin Frith, prefer to believe the score, and the result is an impressively relentless sweep from the faintest pppp to a searing fff.

Messiaen’s library was full of picture-books of astronomy and his interpretation of the whole work brings out the violence and local disorder involved in the act of creation, even if the ultimate goal (here, a resplendent A major chord) is always in view. This superbly engineered Hyperion disc is true to his Technicolor vision.

Indeed, it is in the rich and immediate piano sound that this version scores most notably over the Regis one, where Hill and Frith’s playing is in no way less accurate or intense. I revelled in a particularly beautiful sudden pianissimo in the fourth movement (0’48”) and some decidedly upfront birds from Osborne in the following one – Messiaen always insisted that townspeople, who knew only the sparrow, had no idea how deafening birds in a forest could be. In the final movement Osborne and Roscoe throw authenticity aside in; or rather, their Modéré, joyeux goes uninhibitedly for the second epithet. And wonderfully exciting it is.

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