Pupils of Messiaen - Messiaen/Stockhausen/Xenakis
It was an attractive idea to put Messiaen‘s best-known pieces for unaccompanied choir alongside works by two famous pupils (in the case of Stockhausen these student works from 1950 predate his study with Messiaen by two years).
Messiaen’s Cinq Rechants (1948) follows Harawi and Turangalila, sharing some of their themes, and is the last of his three works based on the Tristan legend. The composer called the cycle a song of love and said that the word ‘love’ itself was enough to guide the singers in their interpretation of his poem and the music. There are elemental rhythmic shouts based on Peruvian folk-styles and repetitive refrains derived from birdsong. The mix is entirely Messiaen and this demanding classic of mid-century writing for 12 soloists receives a fine performance. So does the incense-laden communion motet – a musical counterpart to prayer. The very early Stockhausen was released for the first time more than 20 years after composition. Stockhausen conducted these pieces himself, released on his own label in 1975. The post-Hindemith style falls somewhat flat after Messiaen‘s magisterial synthesis of contrasted elements, but the pieces are fascinating from the composer who was soon to dominate the European avant-garde.
The Xenakis novelty, A Helene, comes from incidental music to a Greek play and is uncharacteristically simple. But Nuits (1967), arising from Xenakis’s horrific experiences as a youth under the Nazis in Greece, makes an extraordinary impact with its textures transcribing the composer’s instrumental innovations on to voices. Xenakisis served more fully by the much-praised New London Chamber Choir and Cinq Rechants appears in another mixed bag with The Sixteen, but the Danes are an excellent choir, well recorded.