Messiaen: Harawi

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Harawi
PERFORMER: Lucy Shelton (soprano), John Constable (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7292-2
Composed in 1945, the song-cycle Harawi forms the first panel of a triptych of works by Messiaen drawing inspiration from the Tristan myth. In the words of the composer, it is ‘the idea of a love that is fatal, irresistible, and which, as a rule, leads to death’. Harawi is a Quecha (indigenous Peruvian) word referring to a love song in which the lovers die, and Messiaen uses folklore and symbolism from the Andes for his transcendental, surrealist texts.


The demands placed on the singer in this extraordinary ‘Chant d’Amour et de Mort’ are phenomenal. Messiaen specifically requests a dramatic soprano, and expects her to flit effortlessly from searing high notes to profound low passages, between relentless tongue-twisting onomatopoeic incantations and the tenderest murmur. Lucy Shelton and John Constable combine phenomenal control with beauty and variety of tone. Indeed, this is a performance which demands further outings. Nevertheless, in a work which explores the extremities of emotion and technique, they err on the side of safety. The chanting in Doundou tchil or Syllabes underwhelms and it is only with the delicious screech at the end of Répétition Planétaire that there is any hint of the danger inherent in the poetry. Christopher Dingle