Reviewed by Tony Cummings
Catholic mystic Olivier Messiaen isn't my favourite of contemporary composers. One of my most uncomfortable musical experiences was sitting through a seemingly endless rendition of Messiaen's "Vingt Regards Sur L'Enfant Jesus" at, of all places, a wedding. So I approached this album with an understandable reluctance. I'm afraid the song cycle, written in 1936 for voice and piano, 'Poemes Pour Mi' left me cold. Using patterns from classical Greek metrics and the rhythmic structures of Hindu music, I completely failed to appreciate its jerky ramblings despite the sleeve's assurance of the cycle's "lucid lyricism." But then came "Theme Et Variations", an early piece from 1932 and for 10 minutes I was transported by the serene spiritual calm of the interplay between piano (Stephen De Pledge) and violin (Matthew Trusler). My calm didn't last. Next up were some excerpts from the vast cycle "Vingt Regards Sur L'Enfant Jesus". I tried reading the sleevenote about how this work, by all accounts "one of the most outstanding piano works of the 20th century", was a meditation on how the Shepherds, Wise Men, Blessed Virgin and Holy Father - and also Time, the Heights, Silence, the Star, the Cross might have been gazed upon and contemplated by the Christ Child at his birth. But for all my efforts, the work still resembles nothing more to my uneducated ear than a thousand unconnected fragments. Clearly my musical education still has a long way to go.
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