Messiaen: Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus; Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité; Quatuor pour la fin du temps; L’ascension,

COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus; Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité; Quatuor pour la fin du temps; L’ascension,
PERFORMER: Yvonne Loriod (piano), Olivier Messiaen (organ); Orchestra du Domaine Musical/Pierre Boulez, etc
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-21007-2 ADD Reissue (1963-75)
Messiaen would have been 90 last December, an anniversary which prompted many orchestras and organisations to find imaginative ways to try to understand this giant of 20th-century music a little better. Unfortunately, Erato has not been similarly inspired. Blessed with the most extensive Messiaen back catalogue of any record company (although DG is rapidly catching up), including recordings of unpublished works and historic performances, it has pulled out just a few of the stops. The first thing to say is that if you have little or none of Messiaen’s music in your collection, this box would make an enticing starting point, perhaps in tandem with a recording of his last completed work, Éclairs sur l’au-delà… It contains the classic account of the pianistic Everest, Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus, by the composer’s wife, Yvonne Loriod, and the composer himself playing the organ Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité of 1969. There may be slightly better versions of Messiaen’s kaleidoscopic vision of the after-life, Couleurs de la cité céleste, but this account is suitably refulgent, while Boulez is wonderfully spacious and granitic in Messiaen’s commemoration of the dead of the two world wars, Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum.

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However, many Messiaen devotees will feel that the set is a missed opportunity. Several of these recordings have been readily available for some time when there are much more enticing gems on Erato’s shelves. For instance, why does Erato include the omnipresent Vingt regards when it is sitting on Loriod’s much greater achievement of Catalogue d’oiseaux? Why include a stodgy old account of Trois petites liturgies, complete with pre-echo, when it has Nagano’s far superior performance? And why does Erato omit Des canyons aux étoiles… when it is one of the greatest Messiaen recordings to have been made? Surely it is not going to make us wait for the centenary? The inclusion of these performances, and some smaller rarities which have never been transferred to CD, would not merely have been an altruistic gesture. It would have made the set infinitely more desirable and, as a consequence, more profitable.