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Messiaen: Cinq rechants; O sacrum convivium etc

Kammerchor Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius (Carus)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0
CAR83523_Messiaen

Messiaen
Cinq rechants; O sacrum convivium; plus works by Debussy, Mahler and Ravel
Kammerchor Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius
Carus CAR83523   42:28 mins

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Where does contemporary choral technique begin? There is a strong case for saying it was in 1948 with Messiaen’s Cinq rechants, his fiendishly difficult showcase for 12 unaccompanied voices. The third panel of his Tristan Triptych, this heady exploration of fervent love blends jaunty tunes, scrunchy harmonies and fluid rhythms for a text that intermingles Sanskrit-and Quechua-inspired invented words with intimate declarations and references to great lovers.

Sung here with 16 voices, the Kammerchor Stuttgart under the direction of Frieder Bernius are certainly up to the technical challenge. The opening of the second Rechant is suitably languid as are the glowing close harmonies of the third’s ‘Ma robe d’amour’, and there is commendable precision for the tumbling cries of ‘sarî’ that follow. However, while there is an intensity of singing, there is only intermittently a corresponding sense of Messiaen’s overwhelming, intoxicating, passionate love. Admittedly, the over-resonant acoustic undermines some of the impact, but there could be more intent to the driving rhythms, greater abandon in the joyful dances and a deeper sense of ardour throughout.

The more chaste fervour of Messiaen’s 1937 communion motet O sacrum convivium is beautifully sung. Usually sung unaccompanied, the voices are joined here by organ, providing a different colour, but it tends to overwhelm the more subdued passages. Four of Clytus Gottwald’s choral arrangements of Debussy, Ravel and Mahler in previously released recordings from 1996 and 2004 act as fillers. They are enchanting, but just 23 minutes of new material is short shrift.

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Christopher Dingle