Reviewed by John Irvine
All through his life Messiaen had sought to explore the Catholic faith in his music. It is therefore fitting that his final piece, "Illuminations Of The Beyond", completed shortly before his death in 1992, should be a meditation on the Last Things. As a culmination of his life's work he offered a picture of the culmination and completion of all life and of everything. The familiar Messiaen trademarks are there: exotic percussion and rhythms, modal chords, transcribed bird song, both in small almost chamber sections as well as in 'big statements' requiring the full use of a 128 piece orchestra. Messiaen does not offer a complete picture: the work is essentially a sequence of intellectually meditative music to evoke insights into the after life. The sequence of 11 pieces begins with a magnificent brass and woodwind fanfare "Vision Of Christ In Glory" and ends with "Christ, Light Of Paradise", a beautiful piece of ethereal strings. In between these two points, the majesty and mystery of a transformed and redeemed created order is examined. At no point does Messiaen simply represent the book of Revelation, nor is there necessarily any progression of continuity from one 'illumination' to another; the tenderness of "Dwelling In Love" is almost brutally contrasted with the following "Seven Angels And The Seven Trumpets". "Dwelling In Love" is in fact the crucial section and the key to the whole piece. It is for strings alone: 16 muted first violins carry the melody as the rest provide subtle harmony in a long phrase of affection and worship. The piece exemplifies Messiaen's desire to know more of his Creator. Full marks must go to Jade Records for providing such extensive notes as well as a complete biography and work list in the CD package. The notes make no secret of his faith and praise him for having written such inspirational Christian music. This recording was made during a live concert and unfortunately the bliss and joy of heaven is spoiled by the coughs and splutters of the audience between tracks, which should have been edited out, and are extremely annoying. The sound is somewhat dull and imprecise even given that this is a live recording. Performance wise, since this is the first recording, there is nothing to compare it too. However, the musicians make a fine job of a very difficult piece, particularly in a live environment. Certainly worth investigating.
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