Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles…

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WORKS: Des canyons aux étoiles…
PERFORMER: Tzimon Barto (piano), John Ryan (horn), Andrew Barclay (xylorimba), Erika Öhman (glockenspiel); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach


Asked to write a work for the bicentenary of the US Declaration of Independence, Messiaen initially demurred. Finding even Paris a terrible strain, he found nothing to celebrate in America’s forests of skyscrapers. Fortunately, he realised that there is another America, in the national parks, notably the canyons of Utah. To misquote Wilde, Messiaen’s 100-minute, 12-movement celebration of nature and faith reflects that while we are all in the canyons, some of us are looking at the stars.

Recorded live in November 2013, Christoph Eschenbach’s recording has much to commend it, not least the prodigious skills of pianist Tzimon Barto. His two solo movements are finely calibrated and his playing elsewhere is incisive. Similarly, John Ryan is superb both in the solo ‘Appel interstellaire’, and in numerous other horn interjections. The London Philharmonic Orchestra negotiates the many challenges of this masterpiece with aplomb. At times one senses that this would have been a truly outstanding experience after another half dozen performances – some passages, including the final pages, feel a bit stiff. Nonetheless there is a rich tapestry of colours and the mêlée towards the end of ‘Cedar Breaks’ is wonderfully anarchic even in the Festival Hall’s urban acoustic.


Christopher Dingle