Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles…

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Des canyons aux étoiles…
PERFORMER: Roger Muraro (piano), Jean-Jacques Justafré (horn), Francis Petit (xylorimba), Renaud Muzzolini (glockenspiel); Radio France PO/Myung-Whun Chung
CATALOGUE NO: 471 617-2
Messiaen was a master of orchestration. No work exemplifies this better than Des canyons aux étoiles…, and no recording currently captures this extraordinary music better than Myung-Whun Chung’s beautiful new account. By contrast to the massed ranks in Messiaen’s other substantial works involving orchestra, the venue for the premiere of Des canyons forced the composer to restrict his ensemble to 44 players, including just 13 strings. The result is an object lesson in careful handling of timbre, with every instrument having a unique part. Messiaen’s solutions range from entire movements for solo piano or horn, handled with élan by Roger Muraro and Jean-Jacques Justafré respectively, to the complete ensemble creating a weight and complexity of sound suggesting a force three times the size.

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Chung’s pedigree in this repertoire shines through, whether deftly pacing the potentially awkward gear changes of ‘Cedar Breaks’ or exuding calm in the sublime ‘La grive des bois’. In Muraro he has a genuine star soloist, capturing the radiantly triumphant end of ‘Le moqueur polyglotte’ better than anyone. It is a pity that, after Messiaen’s care and attention, the strings are recorded so closely, resulting at times in a balance that bears little resemblance to concert-hall experiences. Christopher Dingle