Messiaen, Peter Hill - Vingt Regards Sur L'enfant Jesus

Wednesday 1st December 1993
Messiaen, Peter Hill - Vingt Regards Sur L'enfant Jesus

STYLE: Classical
RATING 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
LABEL: Unicorn-Kanchana 9133/23

Reviewed by John Irvine

Messiaen wrote his 'Vingt Regards' or '20 contemplations' for the piano in 1944 as an attempt to find a language of love in describing God. Previously he had regarded his works as theological rather than mystical; now he perfected a musical language mystical as well as theological. In this he was inspired by Catholic spiritual writers such as Dom Columba Marmion and St John of the Cross. It is impossible to take in Christ's majesty all at once, say Messiaen: we require small contemplations or 'regards' in order to do this. I simply don't have the space to explain how Messiaen achieves this throughout his two hour work; instead, I will focus on particular movements which should give you a general idea of the whole piece. "L'echange" is a depiction of God becoming man. Themes representing God decrease by semitone steps on repetition, themes representing man increase. Also, the themes representing man become longer and more important as the Word becomes flesh. "Parluitout A Ete Fait (By Him All Things Were Made)" illustrates, as Messiaen put it, "the abundance of space of time... all creation reveals to us the luminous shadow of his voice... the face of God behind the flame and the flood." "Premiere Communion De La Vierge" is a very sweet piece inspired by a painting of the Virgin kneeling and worshiping the child in her womb. Just as Christ is received in Communion (as Catholics believe) so Mary experiences the first communion when she agrees to bear the child. Deep pulsations represent the heartbeat of the child in the womb. "Regard Des Anges" communicates the bewilderment of the angels that God should unite himself with the human race. Peter Hill has developed for himself not just a formidable reputation as a pianist, but a reputation as the foremost contemporary interpreter of Messiaen's piano works. His skill and insight into Messiaen's music earned him Messiaen's respect, admiration and friendship shortly before Messiaen's death in 1992. This recording will not be surpassed in quality, technical performance or interpretation for quite some time.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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