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VINE VOICEon 30 December 2008
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, with the first three books being presented here. (For the other volumes see "Catalogue d'oiseaux, Books 4-6", "Catalogue d'oiseaux Book 7". 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 his preparation for these recordings, made in 1986. 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 this 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.

Book 1 of the cycle presents us with three sparkling vistas. 'Le Chocard des Alpes (The Alpine Chough)' is set in the Alps of Dauphiny, with its rugged mountain and glacial scenery. Here the piano relays the raucous calls of Choughs and Ravens together with evocations of sights such as the majestic, silent soaring of the Golden Eagle. By contrast, 'Le Loriot (The Golden Oriole)' delights in the early morning June sunshine flashing off the bright plumage of the birds of the lower Loire valley, and echoing the glittering songs of the woodland songbirds, in particular, the almost magical exotic voice and plumage of the Golden Oriole. (The essentially virtuosic - and somewhat romantic - nature of this particular scene may have something to do with the title's punning reference to the composer's second wife, pianist Yvonne Loriod.) The book closes with 'Le Merle bleu (The Blue Rock Thrush)', which is set on the Vermilion Coast, also in June. The intense blue sheen of the Mediterranean finds a reflection in the plumage of the Blue Rock Thrush, singing amongst the rocky clefts of the awesome cliffs, amidst the crashing of the waves, beautifully represented in the crashing chordal clusters amongst the sparkling trills.

Book 2 presents but a single location. Once again, we are in the region of Roussillon and the Vermilion Coast in June. This time, though, we are treated to a 15-minute encapsulation of the passing day, from the rising of the red-gold orb of the sun from the depths of the sea at 5am, through to the fall of night, some 17 hours later. As ever, Olivier Messiaen's unerring ability to conjure colours from his harmonic structures transports the listener effortlessly to the scene. Close your eyes and you can all but feel the developing heat of mid-morning, as the light grows in intensity. The cooler evening and the approach of night brings a welcome breeze from the distant sea, together with the remote calls of the gulls.

The final book on this disc presents us with two views of the night. 'La Chouette Hulotte (The Tawny Owl)', with its mysterious and eerie calling, evokes the terrors of the unknown that lurk within the darkness, whilst 'L'Alouette Lulu (The Woodlark)' demonstrates a calmer, more relaxing side to the night. The rippling calls of Woodlark and Nightingale augment, rather than spoil, the peace and tranquillity of the darkness amidst the Grand Bois in the mountains of the Forez. The final quiet notes die away into the silence of midnight... I swear I can even smell the pine resin!

All in all, this is a disc of music to listen to with the lights down low, and the eyes closed, to let it work its magical evocations to the full. Above all else, though, it is truly music to treasure, presented here in one of the very best versions imaginable. Unreservedly recommended.
22 Comments| 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
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.
11 Comment| 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 11 February 2016
wonerful to listen to
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse



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