With Pierre-Laurent Aimard having received the mantle of greatest living performer of the works of Olivier Messiaen from his mentor, Yvonne Loriod (the late composer's second wife), it made sense for him to offer a keyboard tribute for the Messiaen centenary. But what had Aimard not recorded already? Not the Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus, or piano parts in the Turangalîla-Symphonie or the Réveil des oiseaux or the Quatuor pour la fin du temps. He chose instead lesser-known works in the solo repertoire, music recorded in its entirety by Roger Muraro for his complete Messiaen piano works set for Accord, made around the turn of the millennium and later incorporated into the complete Messiaen box released by Deutsche Grammophon. That box set is highly recommended for anyone with a serious interest in Messiaen's music (more about that later, as I work my way through more of it), but someone interested in only an introduction would likely rather choose a sampling of individual discs than a box set priced at over $200.
Hommage à Messiaen, Pierre-Laurent Aimard
(released on October 14, 2008)
Deutsche Grammophon B0012056-02
Early Songs | La Fête des Belles Eaux | Quatuor pour la fin du temps | Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus
In new recordings made last February, Aimard begins with the diverting, Debussyesque Préludes pour piano, composed in the late 1920s, while Messiaen was still a student. These pieces, a reaction to the death of his mother, are profoundly felt but, in a part of the composer's character that does not escape the notice of an admirer, occasionally maudlin. Aimard then guides the listener through the transformation of Messiaen's voice, from the extended harmony of Ravel and the cabaret hall, through the ornithological research of the Catalogue d'oiseaux (two selections -- Cetti's Warbler and the Wood Lark) and the investigation of additive forms of non-Western rhythm in the Ile de feu movements from the Quatre Etudes de rhythme. In both of the latter, there is enough audible evidence of the influence of Stravinsky worth noting, and Aimard's interpretation is subtly voiced, technically assured, suave, and dynamic.