Messiaen: Poèmes pour Mi

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Poèmes pour Mi; Les offrandes oubliées; Un sourire
PERFORMER: Anne Schwanewilms (soprano); Lyon National Orchestra/Jun Märkl
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572174

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This is a delicious programme. The orchestral version of Poèmes pour Mi, Messiaen’s early song cycle celebrating his marriage to Claire Delbos, is offset by his astonishingly precocious orchestral debut, Les offrandes oubliées, and one of his last works, Un sourire, written in honour of his first and deepest musical love, Mozart.

Anne Schwanewilms has a lovely voice, yet also has the requisite power when needed. It is a pity that she sounds in exposed passages as if she is singing in her own private bathroom. Occasionally a little more space, rather than resonance, would be welcome, such as in the chant-like passages of the opening ‘Action de grâces’, while the closing Alleluias could be more languid. There is much, though, that is achingly beautiful, notably the crucial central song ‘L’épouse’. Jun Markl and his Lyon forces provide sterling support, though they do not always have the discipline or sheen of, say, the Cleveland Orchestra under Boulez (DG – currently unavailable).

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The tempos of the slow passages in Les offrandes and Un sourire are well judged, even if, in an ideal world, there would be a shade more ebb and flow. Given that the title of Poèmes pour Mi underlines that these songs are a marriage of words and music, the absence of texts is unforgiveable at any price. Christopher Dingle