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Olivier Messiaen: Chronochromie/La Ville d'en haut/Et Exspecto
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OLIVIER MESSIAEN: CHRONOCHROMIE/LA VILLE D'EN HAUT/ET EXSPECTO
Ce sont les "couleurs du temps", comme l'annonce le titre, qu'Olivier Messiaen exalte dans cette fresque orchestrale, baséation, bruissant de chants d'oiseaux et de bruits de cascades, où la foi catholique du compositeur français s'exprime dans une sorte de lumière originelle. Ce disque comprend également Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, autre oeuvre symphonique et mystique majeure de Messiaen (1964). --Michel Marmin
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Chronochromie (`the color of time') from 1960 is cast in seven imposing structures (the durations of that are mathematically determined) that reflects Messiaen's passion with birdsong and with mountains (and manipulating musical durations based on note values). In Chronocromie, development in the normal sense is eschewed in favor of stasis and repetition; it is a spectacular piece, however, with the fluttering woodwind and percussion birdsong against the monstrous mountains of low winds, humming and droning with grand, rocky chords in between the sounds of water and streams. Despite its strict, formal, mathematical basis of various permutations of tone durations here related to his idea about "modes of limited transposition", the work is really a big tone poem depicting a natural world without people and therefore without time. The culmination is surely the "Epode", where eighteen bird songs (in the strings) simultaneously cry out for more than four minutes (if it sounds like chaos I assure you that it really creates an amazing kaleidoscope of sound - it is, by the way, a really difficult part and excellently executed on this recording, sounding clearer and more vivid than I would have imagined possible while still realizing the sense of timelessness).
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum is scored for 34 winds and percussion ensemble, and is still infused with Messiaen's fascination with mountains - it is a monumental, imaginative work that also creates the impression of time suspended, but is imbued with more of an sense of expectation and forward looking than Chronochromie. It is cast in five "blocks" where the first is a monophonic chant, the second a dialogue (commenced by a six note lightning flash theme - according to the composer the melodic character of the theme is defined by the decay of the notes rather than their attack, and Boulez captures that point wonderfully) turning into a chorale. In the third there is symbol-heavy use of bird-song, whereas the fourth represents resurrection in all it flashy, monumental glory (I assume), and the sixth represents the chant of the first block leading to a colorful sequence of chords.
The disc also gives us La ville d'en haut, scored for winds, percussion and piano - an almost `ethereally colorful' work - a shaft of white light that contains all the colors - it is scored for winds, percussion and piano and cast in contrasting textural sections (full of playful bird song and chorale-like material offset by shimmering colors from the piano and percussion, as usual). Though I do agree that the contents of this late work consist of gestures we have heard before from the composer, the end result is still endlessly fascinating. Throughout all three works the playing is beyond reproach, realizing a clarity and rhythmic precision, and at the same time sense of wonder, that has rarely if ever been achieved elsewhere. The sound quality is fine - clean and clear and with a good dynamic ranger. In short, this is a very strongly recommended release of dazzlingly, masterly music in marvelous performances.
This is an essential disc of his work, impeccably performed, conducted and recorded. "Chronochromie," "the color of time," is 7 blocks of music, static and forbidding -- but the orchestra plays an endless variety of bird songs! This was one of Messiaen's central preoccupations, related to the inspiration he received from St. Francis. On first listening, I found it difficult to enter this sound world, but on repeated listening, it opens up vistas of imagination. The echoes of this resolute abstraction can be heard in virtually everything by Xenakis.
The middle piece, "The City Above," is a shorter work, and successfully invokes a vision of Heaven. Finally, "I Await the Resurrrection of The Dead" is an unqualified masterpiece. Stirred by his religious faith, Messiaen knocks the listener back in sheer awe with his powers of orchestration.
While the Turangalîla-symphonie is Messiaen's most popular work, and most often performed, these later works are deeper, greater accomplishments, and should be heard by anyone who has a passion for 20th century music!
Chronochromie and Et expecto have both been recorded before - in both cases not long after their premieres. Both are works of Messiaen's Middle Period when the force and impact of Nature as a reflection of the composer's religious beliefs was right in the foreground of his writing (cf. Des canyons aux etoiles, Couleurs de la cite celeste or the Books of the Catalogue d'Oiseaux for other examples). Here you will find Messiaen's passion for birdsong given full rein along with his intensely vivid impressionist musical landscapes. The central movement of Chronochromie where a multitude of solo strings pile up all the different birdsongs of a dawn chorus is magical in this performance - the perfect mix of clarity and chaos. This is staggering writing that, inevitably, foreshadows the passage in St. Francois when the saint preaches to the birds.
Chronochromie is the strongest piece on this disc, tightly organised along the lines of classical Greek poetic drama with carefully balanced movements (Strophe set against Antistrophe as in a Greek Chorus) and filled with bold gestures, wonderful melodies and the richest of multihued harmonies (Messiaen always tends to see his harmonies in synesthesic terms). The work has tended to live in the shadow of more obviously dramatic pieces like Canyons and Et expecto. The latter as recorded here will have you jumping at the sudden screeches of the birds. The games with additive rhythms on a range of gongs and tam-tams are certainly exciting. Here, too, are the monumental chorales so typical of Messiaen. But it seems to me that Et expecto lacks some of the cohesion that holds Chronochromie together as a whole work, rather than as a series of pictures.
The performances of both works, as well as of La Ville en haut (another vision of the Celestial City) are masterly from the composer's pupil. The clarity of texture, the precision of ensemble and the rhythmical accuracy Boulez secures from his Cleveland forces are all thrilling. The dynamic range will test your equipment and the tolerance of your neighbours, especially in these recordings which present the sounds of the mostly wind and percussion forces with remarkable accuracy and with great depth as well as spread to the stereo image.