Messiaen: La transfiguration de notre seigneur Jésus-Christ; Réveil des oiseaux

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COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Hänssler faszinationmusik
WORKS: La transfiguration de notre seigneur Jésus-Christ; Réveil des oiseaux
PERFORMER: Yvonne Loriod (piano); EuropaChorAkademie; SWR Baden-Baden & Freiburg RSO/Sylvain Cambreling, Hans Rosbaud
CATALOGUE NO: CD 93.078 ADD mono/DDD stereo
When Myung-Whun Chung’s magnificent DG recording of Messiaen’s vast oratorio La transfiguration was released in 2002, it immediately assumed benchmark status, a position that seemed unlikely to be questioned for decades to come. Just one year on, this newcomer presents a formidable challenge. Sylvain Cambreling’s German forces frequently equal or surpass the achievements of their French counterparts under Chung, notably in the crucial low registers, from the deliciously rich resonances of the tam-tams in the percussion introduction, to the Tibetan-inspired pedal-notes during ‘Perfecte conscius illius perfectae generationis’.

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In a work of this size there are inevitably some quibbles:the ragged chanting in the ‘Récit évangelique’ movements, for instance. Most frustratingly, the final chord is simply too short to be sufficiently overwhelming. This strikes at the heart of the comparison between Chung and Cambreling. The latter has a chorus with better intonation than any rivals, a phenomenal orchestra and a fine set of instrumental soloists. It is replete with marvellous insights, but Chung’s account is the more complete performance.

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The end of the matter? Not quite, for whereas the DG account has no filler, Hänssler has an ace up its sleeve in the recording of Réveil des oiseaux made just before the world premiere in 1953. With a youthful Yvonne Loriod displaying the pianistic virtuosity, agility and grace that beguiled Messiaen, this is a performance of genuine historic importance, so that, while Chung just about remains the benchmark for La transfiguration, this new set is ultimately preferable. Christopher Dingle