Messiaen Catalogue d’oiseaux

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Triton
ALBUM TITLE: Messiaen Catalogue d’oiseaux
WORKS: Catalogue d’oiseaux
PERFORMER: Momo Kodama (piano)


Does any title underplay, misrepresent even, a work more than Catalogue d’oiseaux? Its connotations of a dry list say more about the parsimonious aesthetic context of the 1950s than the abundant riches found in Messiaen’s masterpiece. These 13 nature portraits are full of drama and musical invention, with Messiaen constantly finding new ways to convey his experience of the French countryside. This vast cycle is a Herculean challenge for the pianist, demanding virtuosity, profound poetry, a keen ear for colour and the finest nuances of touch.

Momo Kodama clearly has the music in her blood. In her hands, the jaunty opening volleys of ‘Le traquet stapazin’ bubble with cheerfulness, and she controls the numerous jumps in tempo and mood with a natural ease. The voicing of the ghosted chords in ‘L’alouette lulu’ is sublime, the ‘music of the ponds’ in ‘La rousserolle effarvatte’ ticks away with a suitably indifferent mystery, and Kodama captures the melancholic beauty of the final ‘Le courlis cendré’.

The recording is excellent, though it is a shame these are only stereo rather than surround-sound SACDs. Just occasionally, a touch more space would be welcome. The various interruptions to the sun-baked opening languor of ‘L’alouette calandrelle’ are a little frenetic and the silences could be even longer. This is only half a caveat, though, for Kodama’s dramatic sense is strong, and the controlled pace for the buzzard’s slow winding flight in ‘La buse variable’ is magical. This well-presented set makes a fine addition to the catalogue of Catalogues.


Christopher Dingle