Messiaen: Visions de l’Amen; Quatre études de rythme

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COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: FMR
WORKS: Visions de l’Amen; Quatre études de rythme
PERFORMER: Olivier Messiaen, Yvonne Loriod (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD120-L0403 ADD mono Reissue (1949, 1951)
Not many recordings have actually helped to shape the course of musical history, but this enterprising disc provides the first release on anything other than extremely rare 78s for one of them. In 1951 Messiaen was asked by UNESCO to record his four Études de rythme. Composed in 1949-50, the studies marked a radical new direction for Messiaen, notably in ‘Mode de valeurs et d’intensités’, in which he extends serial techniques to incorporate factors such as rhythm and attack (an idea that he had been considering since at least 1946). If this all sounds a bit forbidding, Messiaen’s performance opens eyes and ears. Under his fingers, ‘Mode de valeurs’ is not a dry exercise but a remarkable fantasia. He may lack the pianism of Yvonne Loriod, but his intent is clear. Quasi-serial methods ultimately proved to be a cul-de-sac for Messiaen, but ‘Mode de valeurs’ effectively opened the door to total serialism for the new generation of composers, notably Boulez and Stockhausen. These 78s stunned the latter at Darmstadt in 1951, playing them over and over again and marvelling at this music of the stars.

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Messiaen and Loriod’s first recording of Visions de l’Amen is no less essential listening, even if the poor sound means that this could never be a recommendation for newcomers to the work. Recorded in barely two hours, the ensemble is occasionally a bit shaky, but the fluidity of the playing in the fifth and final movements is a revelation, and the performance is underpinned by a burning passion. Christopher Dingle