WORKS: Trois petites liturgies de la présence divine; La voyante; Piano Concerto in A minor; La cigale et la fourmi
PERFORMER: Germaine Cernay (mezzo-soprano), Yvonne Loriod, Arnaud de Gontaut-Biron (piano), Ginette Martenot (ondes martenot); Yvonne Gouverne Chorale, Paris Conservatoire Concerts Society Orchestra, L’Oiseau-Lyre Instrumental Ensemble/Roger Désormière
CATALOGUE NO: LYS 310 (distr. Parsifal) ADD mono (1939-45)
A very special disc indeed. War still raged in Europe when Messiaen’s Trois petites liturgies received its premiere in April 1945, but this event signalled that cultural life in liberated Paris was regaining some of its pre-war ebullience. All the established figures of the French artistic world attended, included Honegger, Poulenc, Jolivet, Eluard and Braque, as did Messiaen’s rapidly emerging students, notably Serge Nigg and Pierre Boulez. While not the scandale portrayed by most biographers, several critics and a number of Messiaen’s colleagues at the Paris Conservatoire were vitriolic in their condemnation. Nevertheless, most of the audience welcomed the work with great enthusiasm, greeting the ardent spiritual message as a metaphor for the nation’s rejuvenation.
This recording was made in conjunction with the premiere using exactly the same forces, including Yvonne Loriod who later became Messiaen’s wife. However, it is the influence of Désormière at the helm which makes this much more than an essential historical document. One or two glitches aside, the performance is astonishingly assured and the chorus has a fervency utterly lacking in more recent recordings. Sauguet’s enchanting Satie-inspired works also fare well and sound is quite good for its time, making this a desirable disc. Christopher Dingle