Messiaen: Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus

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LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus
PERFORMER: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-26868-2
If a work’s greatness can be measured by the number of different interpretations it can withstand, then Messiaen’s monumental meditation for piano Vingt regards sur I’enfant Jesus is proving itself a giant. Anyone who has witnessed Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s live performance will not be disappointed by this recording. It has all the iridescence and exhilarating energy that took the breath away at his Barbican performance in 1999. He hurls through the work, often at terrific speed; static architecture is replaced by galloping narrative. It may not be what Messiaen originally envisaged, but he was never averse to being surprised by performers.


In comparison to Yvonne Loriod’s masterly reading (Erato) his is a youthful approach. Some will find spirituality in its spectacular exultation, others may feel he dances over a deeper sense of meditation. What is sure is that Aimard has opened the shutters on the work and let the light flood in: gone is the heavy churchiness and organ-like massivity. His high tclats glitter; every line, every edge and crevice are revealed, beautifully weighted and balanced. Listen to the irresistible rhythmic drive in ‘L’esprit de joie’, the luminous, rocking chant of ‘La vierge’, the diamond clarity of multiple lines and rhythms in ‘Prophetes’ (16) and the apocalyptic power of his ‘figlise d’amour’. But it’s not all testosterone: ‘Le baiser de Fenfant’ is wonderfully veiled and ‘Je dors’ innocence itself.


The recorded sound is superlative (even the pounded bass chords in ‘La parole toute puissante’ have a penetrating and precise resonance). Beside it, Loriod’s badly edited version sounds congested and murky. Austbo’s performance (Naxos) is gentler, more circumspect and certainly truer to Messiaen’s marked tempi. But who can complain when the piano playing is of this order? In 20 years time, no doubt, he will play it differently. For now, be dazzled.