Messiaen: Saint François d’Assise (excerpts)

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COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Orfeo
WORKS: Saint François d’Assise (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Rachel Yakar, Kenneth Riegel, Robert Tear, Gilles Cachemaille, Sebastian Vittucci; ORF Choir, Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Vienna RSO/Lothar Zagrosek
CATALOGUE NO: 485 982 I
Messiaen’s immense opera, Saint François d’Assise, is widely misunderstood. Due to the lack of physical action, it has been claimed that this phenomenally rich score is not an opera at all and that its scenes possess no continuous dramatic thread. Utter nonsense. It is an intense spiritual drama and, despite faults, Peter Sellars’s recently revived production (Hallé/Nagano, recorded for DG) proved unequivocally that this is a work of the theatre.

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No complete recording is currently available, so this concert performance of four scenes might have seemed like a good investment for those unfamiliar with this extraordinary music. Any account will reveal hitherto unsuspected facets, but they come here at the expense of fundamental elements. The infliction of the stigmata should be terrifyingly powerful. Instead it is mildly alarming, chugging along without the merest hint of a bass drum. The recording balance is presumably to blame, but nothing can hide the fact that Fischer-Dieskau, for all his gravitas, never donned a habit to play the saint in a staged production. The other soloists (several were in the original Paris production) are mostly fine, but, devotees apart, wait for the Nagano recording before spending any money. Christopher Dingle