Messiaen: St François d’Assise

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Assai
WORKS: St François d’Assise
PERFORMER: José van Dam, Christiane Eda-Pierre, Kenneth Riegel; Paris Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
CATALOGUE NO: 222212 Reissue (1983)
When St François d’Assise received its premiere in 1983, there were many who doubted whether a work of such immense proportions, in which the drama is primarily internal, would ever be staged again. With recent productions in San Francisco and Berlin, and others in the pipeline, Messiaen’s magnum opus is entering the repertoire and coming to be recognised as one of the iconic operas of the 20th century.

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This reissued recording of the original production is fairly rough and ready, with stage noise (and the prompter) being clearly audible. Nevertheless, there is a palpable sense of performers and audience alike being caught up in the unfolding of a magnificent event. Not surprisingly in such a vast new score, the orchestra and chorus are not always entirely on top of events, but José van Dam is simply magnificent in the title role, and Christiane Eda-Pierre is a silken-voiced Angel. Kent Nagano’s 1998 recording from the Salzburg Festival, with José van Dam’s final outing as the Saint, is superior in terms of playing, interpretation and recording (DG), but Ozawa still raises the hairs on the back of the neck, and this recording will always be treasured by this extraordinary work’s rapidly growing band of devotees. Christopher Dingle