Messiaen: Préludes; ÃŽle de feu 1 & 2 from Quatre études de rythme; Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus, No. 4, 10, 15

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Préludes; Île de feu 1 & 2 from Quatre études de rythme; Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus, No. 4, 10, 15
PERFORMER: Angela Hewitt (piano)
Thanks to the advocacy of Dukas, his teacher, the eight Préludes were the first pieces by Messiaen to appear in print, marking the start of his career at the tender age of 21. Titles such as ‘Un reflet dans le vent’ and ‘Les sons impalpables du rêve’ might suggest a burdensome debt to Debussy and Ravel, but any such fingerprints merely reflect their quintessentially French spirit. Indeed, Messiaen’s distinctive style is already apparent.


Written in 1929 under the shadow of his mother’s death, the Préludes are permeated by a profound sense of melancholy, an unusual trait in a composer who subsequently became renowned for his ecstatic outpourings of joy. Nowhere is the lugubrious spirit felt more potently than in ‘Cloches d’angoisse et larmes d’adieu’, which provides the first portrayal in Messiaen’s music of the struggle between life and death, or, more accurately, death and life.


It also provides the yardstick for any performance of the Préludes. Angela Hewitt has many of the requisite qualities, notably a broad range of colour and a willingness to interpret as opposed to just playing the notes. Indeed, with the movements extracted from other works, this disc could provide a suitable starting point for those wishing to explore this repertoire. However, Messiaen’s music should create and dispel moods. In this respect, Hewitt cannot match Peter Hill’s intangible ability to mesmerise, or his sensitive placing of crucial notes. Hewitt’s recital is utterly enjoyable, but to experience the full hypnotic potential of this music, turn to Hill. Christopher Dingle