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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Faultless conclusion to an evocative cycle, 30 Dec 2008
Steve Benner "Stonegnome" (Lancaster, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Messiaen: Catalogue d'Oiseaux, Book 7 (Audio CD)
The seven "books" of Olivier Messiaen's enormous "Catalogue d'oiseaux (Catalogue of Birds)" were composed between 1956 and 1958. In all, they encompass two and a half hours of some of the most beautifully evocative music for solo piano ever penned. Peter Hill's epic survey of the complete piano music of Olivier Messiaen splits this particular cycle over three volumes. This disc is the third of those volumes, featuring a single final, seventh book. The second half of the disc features a companion work, "La Fauvette des jardins (The Garden Warbler)" which dates from 1970. (For the other volumes see "Catalogue d'oiseaux, Books 1-3", "Catalogue d'oiseaux, Books 4-6". This CD is also available as part of the Peter Hill's complete "Catalogue d'oiseaux" set and also within the "Messiaen - Complete Piano Works".)

Peter Hill worked closely with the composer during the preparation for these recordings, made in 1989. His performances were enthusiastically endorsed by Olivier Messiaen himself, so that one can regard this series as being as close to a definitive set as it is possible to achieve. Certainly, the performer's sympathetic treatment of these works, combining pianistic precision with an exquisite deftness of touch - as well as the discs' stunning recording quality - makes it unlikely that they can ever be bettered. These discs also include the composer's own detailed programme notes for each of the movements, together with a highly informed and informative essay on the works, written by recording producer, Anthony Pople, making each a truly indispensable series of releases indeed.

The "Catalogue d'oiseaux" as a whole provides a wonderfully atmospheric depiction of various wild parts of France, through highly virtuosic presentations of sequences of transcribed bird-song, painstakingly notated by the composer on countless field-trips throughout his life. What comes across to the (non-ornithological) listener first and foremost, though, is the intense musicality - and colourfulness - of the resulting opus. These are true studies - and celebrations - of beauty. It is also music of the utmost joy and peacefulness, reminding us that as well as his love of the natural world (most especially its birds) Olivier Messiaen also held deep religious convictions. Here is beauty tempered by spirituality, resulting in the most moving and touching of musical works.

In bringing this epic cycle to its close, the three movements of Book 7 reflect the three movements of the opening book. 'La Buse variable (The Buzzard)' returns us to the majestic mountainous region of the Dauphiny, near Grenoble, with which the cycle began. This movement features a level of dramatic programming that is otherwise absent from the "Catalogue...", with a detailed portrayal of aerial combat between the Buzzard and a group of Carrion Crows. Otherwise, though, these late stages of the work largely recapitulate imagery from throughout the cycle. The following movement, 'Le Traquet rieur (The Black Wheatear)' reintroduces us to the imposing coastal splendour of Roussillon in the late spring and the music of the Blue Rock Thrush from the opening book of the cycle. The final movement, however, takes us to territory which is new and entirely unfamiliar: 'Le Courlis cendré (The Curlew)' is set on the island of Ushant off the coast of northern Brittany. Its rich and varied bird-life is all new to us, although the presence of the sea provides a point of reference into the rest of the cycle, as indeed does the essentially desolate nature of this habit, with the final rippling calls of the Curlew over the fog-bound Atlantic surf mirroring the very opening amongst the Alpine glaciers of the Dauphiny. The cycle which began two and half hours (and two discs) earlier is thus brought to a magnificently haunting conclusion.

This CD, however, has more to offer. Although composed over ten years after "Catalogue d'oiseaux", "La Fauvette des jardins" is very much a return to the soundworld of the earlier cycle, and shares the same programmatic nature. Indeed, it features many of the same elements used in the larger work, following the course of a single day in the Petichet region of the Dauphiny. It incorporates many of the bird songs familiar from the "Catalogue..." and makes an admirable companion piece to it. If anything, it is even more ebullient and life-affirming than the earlier work and requires an even greater degree of virtuosity from its performer. Pianist Peter Hill really rises to the challenge here, giving it as sensitive and evocative treatment as could be, making this disc an absolutely essential purchase for all lovers of twentieth century keyboard music.
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