Joanna MacGregor plays Messiaen & Krauze

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Krauze,Messiaen
LABELS: Sound Circus
WORKS: Quatuor pour la Naissance
PERFORMER: Joanna MacGregor (piano); Charlotte Redijk (soprano), Medeleine Mitchell (violin), David Campbell (clarinet), Christopher van Kampen (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 68393-2

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There are myriad reasons why Messiaen never composed another song cycle after Harawi. There are the deeply personal ones, for the genre was his means of expressing love for his first wife, Claire Delbos.

More prosaically, after Marcelle Bunlet retired, he never found another singer who could combine Wagnerian power with a willingness to traverse the exceptional challenges of his own music. These explanations aside, it is hard to see what Messiaen could ever have written for voice and piano after the extraordinary, disturbing, exhilarating and touching journey of Harawi.

The thesaurus should seem inadequate for the task of describing any decent performance of this 20th-century Winterreise, and in differing ways that is the effect produced by each of the two new accounts here. Hetna Regitze Bruun and Kristoffer Hyldig prove to be fine advocates of Messiaen’s music: Hyldig displays a sure touch and a keen sense of colour, while Bruun has the range of expression and the vocal clout to convey both the radiant and the unsettling aspects of Messiaen’s fevered imagination.

Nor is she lacking in beauty, with exquisite stillness in ‘L’amour de Piroutcha’. This is also evident in the early Trois mélodies, especially ‘Le sourire’. It is a pity, then, that this is periodically at the expense of enunciation. Messiaen’s poems may be surrealist, and occasionally use invented words, but it is important to hear them, especially since Naxos do not include texts.

There are no such problems with Charlotte Riedijk’s version, though this makes the occasional idiosyncracies of her French pronunciation more apparent. In general Riedijk has greater timbral variety, and a steeliness underpinning the venture.

In an ideal world, there would be an even greater sense of extremes, of how far Messiaen has strayed beyond the usual niceties of a vocal recital. Joanna MacGregor is in top form, making this performance of Harawi the pick of a set in which it is coupled with reissues underlining her commitment to Messiaen.

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MacGregor’s account of that Everest of cycles, the Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus, is full of ideas, but falls short of the spiritual space found by Steven Osborne (Hyperion). The Quartet for the End of Time has plenty of nice touches, but it lacks the fluidity of the best versions. The original coupling of Krauze’s engaging Quatuor pour la Naissance is welcome bonus to a useful rather than essential set. Christopher Dingle