Messiaen: Visions de l’Amen; plus pieces by Birtwistle, Enescu and Knussen
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Tamara Stefanovich (piano)
Pentatone PTC 5186 957 68:47 mins
Visions de l’Amen is extraordinary among works for two pianos. It is not just that Messiaen’s dazzling traversal of everything from the moment of creation to a radiantly joyful afterlife is musically overwhelming. Visions marks the transformation of his piano writing on encountering Yvonne Loriod’s seemingly limitless capabilities, inspiring his duo writing in which the breathtaking virtuosity of Loriod’s part takes wing from the principal themes and harmonies unfolding in Messiaen’s part.
Few, if any, duos are better equipped to take on this mantle than Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich. Aimard’s exceptionally close association with Messiaen and Loriod goes back to his youth when he studied with both of them. As he puts it, ‘If having a home really means anything, then this piece is my home.’ Stefanovich is also thoroughly immersed in Visions and, unusually, they have alternated parts in their numerous performances. The result is a musical symbiosis where they move as one even in the complex birdsong textures of ‘Amen des Anges’. The pacing of Messiaen’s vast architecture is superb, the penultimate ‘Amen du Jugement’ somehow combining granitic implacability with an inevitable momentum towards the final ‘Amen de la Consommation’.
All captured in superb sound, the thunderous final chord is allowed to fade naturally into lengthy silence, ensuring sufficient distance before the three bell-inspired pieces that follow. Far from rude interlopers, Birtwistle’s Clock IV, Knussen’s Prayer Bell Sketch and Enescu’s Carillon Nocturne offer welcome resonances.