Messiaen, The Hague Philharmonic Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera, Ingo Met - Saint Francois d'Assise

Published Thursday 2nd April 2009
Messiaen, The Hague Philharmonic Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera, Ingo Met - Saint Francois d'Assise
Messiaen, The Hague Philharmonic Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera, Ingo Met - Saint Francois d'Assise

STYLE: Choral
RATING 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
LABEL: Opus Arte OA1007
FORMAT: DVD Music video

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

I concede that I am stepping out into the unknown with this triple DVD set. I have listened to and enjoyed much of the instrumental of Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) but never explored any of his vocal works. To prepare myself I consulted a couple of opera-loving friends. Con warned me that Messiaen makes Wagner sound like Gilbert And Sullivan but Pro said that this was an unfair comparison. Pro went on to explain that Messiaen's strength was as an organist and he became recognised as a virtuoso improvisationist. As such he tended not to follow musical conventions with regard to time-signatures and harmonisation ("And wouldn't know a good tune if he heard one," interrupted Con). Pro ignored this rudeness and continued to explain that to fully appreciate Messiaen we have to imagine his compositions to be like buildings. We must start at the bottom and work our way up, enjoying the detail and the craftsmanship as we go, but only seeing the full glory when the building is complete. Con thought that this was nonsense and left Pro and I to listen/watch without him. The first thing to say is that someone at Opus Arte believes in this project: a triple DVD set with extensive booklet notes and all manner of extra features including, mercifully, English sub-titles suggest that this edition is going to be the definitive one for many years to come. The staging resembles a junk yard but - and I suspect this to be deliberate - one keeps seeing crosses in amongst the debris. The lighting and sound quality are both superb and the singing is excellent. Apart from The Angel, played by Camilla Tilling, all the principals are male and Rod Gilfry as Saint Francois dominates the stage with an intensely charismatic performance. The opening notes are played on the Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument of which Messiaen was fond and this sets the atmosphere superbly. Con is right in that Messiaen is not a tunesmith but we need to follow Pro's advice and listen to the opera in Messiaen's own terms. It is slow but intense and the atmosphere grows until, by the end of the journey, Pro and I were sitting in stunned silence. We can honestly say that we have never heard anything like this but Pro (I do wish he would shut up) points out that it was a review copy so I did not pay for it and that this would be a very expensive mistake for a purchaser who is unsure whether to investigate or not.

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.

Interested in reviewing music? Find out more here.

Reader Comments

Posted by Steven Whitehead in Buckinghamshire @ 18:19 on Dec 10 2009

Someone liked this - it has been nominated for a 2009 Grammy award.

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

Add your comment

We welcome your opinions but libellous and abusive comments are not allowed.

We are committed to protecting your privacy. By clicking 'Send comment' you consent to Cross Rhythms storing and processing your personal data. For more information about how we care for your data please see our privacy policy.


Connect with Cross Rhythms by signing up to our email mailing list

Press Forward, Now!
Cross Rhythms Media Training Centre
Artists & DJs A-Z
# A B C D E F G H I J K L M
N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z #
Or keyword search


Watering Hole
Be heard in your pain and needs and cry out to your God in our Prayer Room