Liszt • Messiaen
A striking juxtaposition. Although not highlighted by the composer himself, the resonances from Liszt in Messiaen’s music have been recognised for some time, yet are barely explored in performance. Pierre-Laurent Aimard nodded in this direction in his ‘Liszt Project’ set (reviewed February 2012). Now, Fredrik Ullén not only places the composers alongside each other, but interweaves the movements of two works, Liszt’s Consolations and Messiaen’s final piano piece, the Petites esquisses d’oiseaux. A few of Liszt’s devotional pieces are thrown into the mix along with the rough diamond of Messiaen’s Cantéyodjayâ, making an enterprising programme.
Earlier Messiaen, with its more direct references to Liszt’s late harmony and orchestral approach to the piano, might have been a more obvious choice. There is an irony, too, in concentrating on Liszt’s religious inspiration and pairing this with Messiaen in non-preaching mode. Regardless, the results of Ullén’s combinations are fascinating. Liszt’s propensity for significant, often chordal, themes, interspersed with more decorative material, is turned on its head by Messiaen’s Petites esquisses, where chord sequences are merely a perch from which the birds take wing.
Ullén flits with ease between the worlds of the two composers. He brings poetry to both, plenty of flourishes and, for the tottering behemoth towards the end of Cantéyodjayâ, a suitable swagger. If there is the smallest caveat, it is that a little more space could be given to events, with greater characterisation and timbral differentiation of the elements in the more fragmented pieces. Nonetheless, this is a beautifully provocative recital.