WORKS: Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus
PERFORMER: Mélisande Chauveau (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: UCD 16709/10 DDD (distr. Scott Butler)
Nearly two-and-a-half hours of religious ecstasy can be taken either as self-indulgence or a powerful expression of faith on Messiaen’s part, depending on one’s own religious viewpoint. His 20 ‘gazes’ (for want of a better word) on the infant Jesus are as much a challenge for the listener as they are for the pianist and encompass images both sentimental (‘The Kiss of the Child Jesus: at each Communion, the Child Jesus sleeps with us near the door’) and powerful (‘Gaze of the Terrible Unction’). Yet all the movements are vivid in colour, with strings of rapt, hymn-like chords and exhilarating passages of pianistic birdsong.
Unlike many of the pianists who have recorded this mammoth cycle, Mélisande Chauveau doesn’t appear to have benefited from the composer’s guidance. She brings considerable technical skills to the music, but lacks the range of character in her playing to carry off such a long work – both Michel Béroff (EMI) and Peter Hill (Unicorn-Kanchana) produce more in the way of colour and vibrancy. The piano sound here could have been recorded more atmospherically and the booklet note would have benefited from a more idiomatic translation from the French. Matthew Rye