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Messiaen: Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus etc

Bertrand Chamayou (piano) (Erato)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Messiaen
Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus; plus works by A Cheung, J Harvey, Kurtág, Murail and Takemitsu
Bertrand Chamayou (piano)
Erato 9029619666   138:26 mins (2 discs)

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A distinctive and commendably bold concept from Bertrand Chamayou. Most pianists would be more than satisfied with presenting Messiaen’s monumental, and monumentally challenging masterpiece Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus. Not Chamayou. He frames this vast canvas with five homages to Messiaen, such as Anthony Cheung’s perky Live Ear Emission!, Murail’s moving Cloches d’adieu, et un sourire and Takemitsu’s sublime Rain Tree Sketch II.

Chamayou certainly possesses the scintillating technique and broad palette of tonal colour required for Messiaen’s extraordinary music. As is clear from the thunderous explosions under the bells of ‘Noël’, he also has the necessary power. There is so much to admire here. And yet, there are only glimpses of the stillness underlying the cycle. The problem is not that Chamayou ignores Messiaen’s metronome markings in the opening ‘Regard du Père’ or ‘Le baiser de l’enfant-Jésus’ – he’s in exceptionally good company there. Rather, a sense of space and wonder is too often absent, the final ‘Regard de l’Église de l’amour’ feeling almost impatient.

It is followed by Kurtág’s unassuming …humble regard sur Olivier Messiaen… and Jonathan Harvey’s enthralling Tombeau de Messiaen. These are mesmerising vignettes and, in isolation, these are wonderful performances from Chamayou. The trouble is that, in the context of a complete performance, the conclusion of the Vingt regards should be a shatteringly uplifting, breathtakingly transcendent experience. Nothing is needed or wanted afterwards. If it is possible to contemplate listening to any other music within ten hours never mind ten seconds, something is not quite right.

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Christopher Dingle