Preludes: Messiaen • Saariaho

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COMPOSERS: Messiaen; Saariaho
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Preludes: Messiaen • Saariaho
WORKS: Messiaen: Preludes; Pièce pour piano et quatuor á cordes; Saariaho: Prelude; Ballade; Je sens un deuxième coeur
PERFORMER: Gloria Cheng (piano); Calder Quartet


Messiaen and Saariaho may overlap little in terms of specific technique, but there is a clear artistic affinity in their music. In the words of Peter Sellars’s eloquent booklet essay, they share a ‘taste for the invisible and yearning for the transcendent’, making their pairing on this beautiful disc from pianist Gloria Cheng exceptionally rewarding.

Her long association with Messiaen’s music bears fruit in a fluid approach to the early Préludes, correctly placing their poetic intensity as an extension of the Romantic tradition. Indeed, it is quite a shock to be thrown to the other end of Messiaen’s career with the pugnacious little Pièce for piano and string quartet, for which Cheng is joined by the Calder Quartet.

Nonetheless, this obliquely prepares the ground for Saariaho’s sublime Je sens un deuxième coeur for piano, viola and cello, which recasts material from her opera Adriana Mater. The opening ‘Je dévoile ma peau’ in which the piano is given a halo of harmonics is like a shimmering echo of ‘Partiels’ from Grisey’s Les espaces acoustiques, and the juxtapositions between movements are handled exquisitely. With Cheng’s fine touch paramount in first recordings of Saariaho’s Prelude and Ballade, this disc is unlikely to gather dust.


Christopher Dingle