- Performer: Steven Osborne
- Composer: Olivier Messiaen
- Audio CD (23 Aug. 2002)
- SPARS Code: DDD
- Number of Discs: 2
- Format: Double CD
- Label: Hyperion
- ASIN: B00006GO67
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 105,820 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur l'enfant Jésus Double CD
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Messiaen's Vingt Regards is a monumental work whose 20 pieces, each with a programmatic religious/spiritual title, run over two hours and demand a pianist, like Osborne, with the virtuosity and idiomatic mastery to do them justice. To the unwary, there's a contradiction between the music's elevated spiritual concerns and the richly textured sounds that reach the ear, especially since those sounds are bathed in sensuous harmonies and modernist chords. But while religiously-inspired music is usually severely austere, Messiaen's colour-drenched sound-world is his analogy for spiritual transcendence. On another plane, this work is an adventure in exciting listening--from the hushed mysteries of the first Regard to the rhetorically powerful final Theme of God. Once heard, the Vingt Regards can't be forgotten as they teem with inventiveness and originality, still sounding fresh sixty years after they were written. Osborne's performance is among the best on disc, virtuosic, well-paced, with a huge dynamic range, fiery in the explosive moments and caressingly sweet in the most contemplative ones. The engineering and notes are exemplary too. --Dan Davis
Messiaen's widow, Yvonne Loriod, was so impressed with Steven Osborne's 1999 performance of Trois Petites Liturgies that she invited him to Paris to study the larger piano works. Since then Osborne has performed Messiaen's epic piano cycle Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus a number of times in public, a work which draws enormously on reserves of stamina, strength and dexterity.
The work was written during the German occupation of France, where basic services such as electricity were becoming so scarce that even the Paris Opéra closed for a time. Messiaen's home was in the north-east of the city, surrounded by constant outbreaks of fighting. With De Gaulle's historic shouts of 'Paris humiliated! Paris broken! Paris martyrised! But Paris liberated!' (words which later Messiaen openly supported) it is astonishing that he managed to finish the Vingt Regards at all in this time, with its symbolic themes of all-embracing love, the Virgin, the Cross and God.
Even with music as finely detailed as Messiaen's in its markings of tempo and articulation, there is still a lot of room for individual interpretation and variation. In this recording of Vingt Regards Osborne often produces glittering pianistic effects or brings out rarely-heard musical lines, although sometimes he sticks perhaps a little too rigidly to the composer's precise notation.
With 'music of the spirit' like this, it is difficult to tread the fine line between total adherence to the printed music and a performance which, although accurate, can 'give' at the edges and produce a perhaps more fulfilling, dare I say impressionist, colourful whole. Osborne possesses these 'giving' qualities, but more than a few times I wished he had taken just a little more time over some of the hurrying groups of demisemiquavers.
He certainly has the pianistic and musical capabilities to carry it off, this recording being one of the most virtuosic I have heard. But for me this performance did feel rather '4-square' - although technically very exact, with great sweeping ranges of timbre and dynamics, it was in places too exact, perhaps not luxuriating or giving as much time to the all-important Messiaen sound-world as I would have liked. --Andrew McGregor
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That this music poses a great conundrum for the pianist hadn’t impressed itself upon me so vividly until I heard this recording: it is both very passionate and very spiritual. This is exactly as it should be, since its subject is the infant Jesus, the Son of God. Messiaen made this music for Him, believing that mankind would never have known the deep spiritual truths if the Son had not become incarnate: God’s mind is too mysterious for man to know directly. For Messiaen, the passion inherent in being human and the spirituality of the Godhead came together in the Christ he worshiped. And so the two paradoxical elements are one in his music. Osborne communicates these two elements as I haven’t heard them before now.
This duality is evident in the very first piece in Vingt Regard, “Regard du Père,” ("Gaze of the Father"). The movement is marked Extrêmement lent. Mystérieux, avec amour. My previous standard in Vingt Regards has been Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who is rather matter-of-fact in this movement, his phrasing regular. His dynamic range varies from about mezzo piano to mezzo forte. Osborne’s approach to the piece is quite different. It is much slower. In fact, it is two full minutes slower! (Aimard, 6:10; Osborne, 8:10) Its dynamic range extends from about mezzo piano to some of the most amazing pianissimo recorded sounds I have heard, with perhaps one brief instant of mezzo forte. And here, I think that we are approaching the point at which all this technical business intersects art. We are listening to Messiaen’s aural picture of God the Father viewing his mortal Son, and Osborne’s vision spreads out at great length and is very hushed; the great chords of the God the Father theme (to be heard throughout Vingt Regard) impress the listener as imponderable and immensely tender. Aimard’s playing of this music, as much as I’ve enjoyed his recording in the past, now seem to miss the mark. Remember Messiaen’s directions: extremely slow, mysterious, with love. Osborne makes the music sound no less than that, and a great deal more, besides. The music has a sensuous, mesmerizing beauty. From the opening bar, Osborne’s use of the pedal causes chords to blur together. This, combined with Messiaen’s dissonances, causes this unworldly experience to seem very beautiful, not unlike the sensation of being beneath the sea. But that mixes metaphors. There is never any doubt that we are in the presence of the awe inspiring.
The fifth piece “Regard du Fils sur Fils,” ("Gaze of the Son upon the Son") is another case that speaks to the same point. It contains some of Messiaen’s’ famous bird music. Here Aimard’s birds, however beautifully they may sing, are earthbound creatures. Under Osborne’s spell, they sing a divine music. Osborne’s wonderful lightness of touch simply transforms this music into something unearthly. (This simply must be heard to be believed.) Again, the theme of God the Father wafts quietly through the left hand; but now, bright creatures, drunk on heavenly light, flutter in the right.
Steven Osborne performed Vingt Regards in Wigmore Hall, London, on January 5, 2000. That was two hours, ten minutes, of exhausting music making, without intermission. I’d really love to have been there. Failing that, I have this magnificent recording. It is full of the kinds of revelations I’ve described. While I have come back to Aimard’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus regularly, because it was the finest recording of the piece and because it is filled with amazing pianism, I play Steven Osborne’s recording often—sometimes repeatedly—because it allows me to experience the essence of the music, because it is beautiful and awe inspiring, and because I love it.
Most warmly recommended.
What we have here is a solo piano piece by the great modernist composer Olivier Messiaen. If you have not heard his work you really must give it a try. But where to start?? His organ work? Solo piano? Orchestral?
Messiaen was a deeply spiritual composer, and this is no exception.
Its entirely solo piano. But it is so gripping and intense, but in a quiet way.
Do give it a try!
Of the CD versions of this work, I believe this recording is the finest now available. The colors achieved by Osborne, the delicacy of sound, the tone of the instrument, even the recording quality itself all lend itself to a superior recording.
The Aimard recording is good - but cooler. The opening work, "Regard du Pere" really sets the mood for the entire performance. It is hauntingly beautiful...sound rising from nothingness...exquisite tones...Aimard plays quicker and cooler -- Osborne's music is more sensual...captivating.
All-in-all, this is a performance which may win you over even if you've never liked this work. It is that good.
I had enjoyed Osborne's Kapustin recordings (though I preferred Hamelin's live versions of the same material), but his newer Messiaen disc completely stunned me. Most obviously, Osborne has suddenly become a master colorist. I can't imagine a more immediately effective performance or recording of this material.
For me, Osborne's Messiaen disc has quickly become as cherished as Richter's 1958 Sofia Recital, Hamelin's Wigmore Hall Recital, or Hough's Mompou recordings. Please do yourself a favor and invesigate.