Messiaen: Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus
PERFORMER: Steven Osborne (piano)
Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus is an Everest of the piano repertoire. While many pianists can overcome any difficulties of technique or interpretation thrown up by individual movements of Messiaen’s transcendent masterpiece, few possess the spiritual, emotional and physical stamina required for a successful interpretation of the complete cycle. Recorded on the back of a series of well-received concert performances, Steven Osborne’s new account certainly demonstrates these qualities in abundance. Virtuosic, tigerish pianism is a prerequisite for the Vingt regards, but it is also absolutely essential to have a sense of space, an attribute that is distinctly lacking in Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s disappointing set (Teldec). Osborne is not quite as daringly spacious as Peter Hill (Unicorn, soon to be reissued on Regis). However, like Håkon Austbø’s poetic account (Naxos), the opening ‘Regard du Père’ is much closer in spirit to Hill’s graceful liner easing out of port than Aimard’s mundane waltzing pedalo. Osborne may not quite possess the sheer momentum (despite some atrocious editing) of Loriod in the fearsome ‘Par Lui tout a été fait’ (Erato), but he has a clear perspective of the architecture of the cycle. As a consequence, the underlying calm of ‘Regard du Fils sur le Fils’ takes its place as an essential building-block in the work as a whole, feeding the hush of the penultimate ‘Je dors, mais mon coeur veille’ and, ultimately, the magisterial renderings of the ‘Theme of God’ that conclude the work. Various mild quibbles could be mentioned, but this is a complete experience that, remarkably, just about holds off the substantial competition.