Messiaen: Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus

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COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus
PERFORMER: Joanna MacGregor (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 70332 DDD
Vingt regards is an Everest of the piano repertoire, demanding the utmost virtuosity at the extremes of technique, from almost inaudible tenderness to frenetic power and violence. It requires not only sublime musicianship but also the confidence and ability to give a free rein to the heady excesses of Messiaen’s intoxicating religious emotionalism.

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As with all great works, it is hardly surprising that no single performance of the piece can hold a position of pre-eminence and every contribution is to be welcomed. However, Joanna MacGregor’s new recording faces particularly strong opposition, from the work’s dedicatee, Yvonne Loriod (Erato), from Peter Hill (Unicorn) and from Håkon Austbø (Naxos).

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MacGregor is brimming with ideas, but is let down by an inability to capture the work’s transcendental qualities, rarely allowing the music enough space to breathe. Forceful movements barely manage to overwhelm, while more introverted meditations lack both intensity and control over the quieter dynamics. More alarming is a cavalier attitude to rhythmically based passages which, in places, bear little or no resemblance to the score. It is also unfortunate that the very bottom register of the Steinway piano is particularly hollow. MacGregor’s is not a ‘bad’ performance, but it ultimately falls short of both the music and the competition. Christopher Dingle