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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: OUR Recordings
ALBUM TITLE: Messiaen L’amour et la foi
WORKS: Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine; O sacrum convivium!; Cinq Rechants
PERFORMER: Marianna Shirinyan (piano), Thomas Bloch (ondes martenot); Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Concert Choir and Chamber Orchestra/Marcus Creed OUR Recordings 6.220612
CATALOGUE NO: 6.220612 (hybrid CD/SACD)


The music is truly extraordinary. ‘L’amour et la foi’ (Love and faith) presents a trinity of Messiaen’s vocal works. The explicitly religious love of Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine is juxtaposed with the surreal and erotic love of Cinq rechants, the short communion motet O sacrum convivium! providing a buffer between these works’ intense emotions. It is a heady mix of rich harmonies, texts expressing fervent love, birdsong, fluid rhythms and exotic elements (gamelan for the Liturgies, Sanskrit- and Quechua-inspired invented words for the Rechants).

This music is also difficult, fiendishly so in the Rechants. It is no small thing, therefore, to say that, in terms of accuracy of pitch, harmony, rhythm and balance, this is the best sung performance on disc of these works, especially the Rechants. Moreover, it is all captured in marvellous surround sound. So why is it ultimately underwhelming?


At the time of these works, Messiaen was described as being the ‘Atomic bomb of contemporary music’ by critic and composer Virgil Thomson, while Pierre Boulez has said there was a ‘whiff of sulphur’ about his activities. There is no such power, intensity or danger here and certainly no sense of ecstatic religious abandon. Far from whipping up to a frenzy, the repeated cries of ‘pour Nous’ that close the second Liturgie become mildly excited. Sadly, given the excellent execution by the Danish forces, these performances somehow make this remarkable music seem ordinary. Christopher Dingle