Messiaen: Concert à quatre; Les offrandes oubliées; Un sourire; Le tombeau resplendissant

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WORKS: Concert à quatre; Les offrandes oubliées; Un sourire; Le tombeau resplendissant
PERFORMER: Catherine Cantin (flute), Heinz Holliger (oboe), Yvonne Loriod (piano), Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)Orchestre de l’Opéra Bastille/Myung-Whun Chun
The Quadruple Concerto, recorded here by its quintuple dedicatees (soloists and conductor), was discovered in an unfinished state after Messiaen’s death by his widow Yvonne Loriod. She had to orchestrate one movement and part of another: one’s eyebrows lift a little when informed that it was also she who was responsible for incorporating in the finale the unbarred cadenza so remarked upon as a special feature of the piece. Whatever questions may persist about Messiaen’s last work, however, there’s no doubt whatever that it’s a wholly delightful score, elegant, witty and playful.


‘Abstract’ pieces are prodigiously rare in his output: this one’s almost a divertimento, so devoid of solemnity is the music, yet full of ravishingly beautiful ideas and deploying his characteristic style oiseau with relaxed fantasy. If the richest sweetmeat is the slow movement, an elaborately ornamented realisation of a vocalise composed as long ago as 1935, there are many pages of comparable succulence, and the capering Rondeau-finale writes an unexpectedly comic finis to his career.


With such distinguished performers, authority is assured (Rostropovich in particular often seems called upon to provide a soothing lyric gravitas when the sparks fly between his co-soloists). DG’s recording is simply stunning, equally impressive in the two orchestral works from the early Thirties (Le tombeau resplendissant is a real rarity), which demonstrate how quickly Messiaen achieved his sublime adagio-style, while his hectic allegros still lay under the spell of Scriabin. Calum MacDonald