Messiaen: La transfiguration de notre seigneur Jésus-Christ; Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum

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COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: La transfiguration de notre seigneur Jésus-Christ; Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum
PERFORMER: Yvonne Loriod (piano), Silke Uhlig (flute), Oliver Link (clarinet), Michael Sanderling (cello), Peter Sadlo (xylorimba), Edgar Guggeis (marimba), Tobias Schweda (vibraphone); NDR Chorus, Berlin RSO & Choir/Karl Anton Rickenbacher
CATALOGUE NO: 3-1216-2
Composed between 1965 and 1969 the vast oratorio La transfiguration de notre seigneur Jésus-Christ marks a watershed in Messiaen’s output. It is the first of his monumental acts of hommage which draw upon the entirety of his capacious compositional toolkit, bringing together the divergent styles found in his music before and after the creative crisis of 1949 into an omnifarious whole. Like Bach’s Passion settings, there are passages of gospel narrative interspersed with meditative movements, and, although Messiaen rejects vocal soloists in favour of seven virtuosic instrumentalists, two gigantic chorales conclude each half of this transcendent work.

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Messiaen’s prime concern is to convey a profound spiritual message rather than flaunting clever new procedures, and one of Karl Anton Rickenbacher’s many strengths in this impressive new account is his ability to convey the powerful simplicity inherent in the oratorio’s expansive gestures without compromising its many complexities of detail. Although this performance does not always match the music for extremity of emotion, the choir and orchestra negotiate its challenges with vigour. The coupling is both apt and generous (the oratorio’s equally granitic predecessor, Et exspecto), but La transfiguration should have been placed second to avoid splitting its latter half across the two discs. Christopher Dingle