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Messiaen: Poèmes pour Mi; Les offrandes oubliées; Un sourire
Olivier Messiaen, Jun Markl, Lyon National Orchestra
Messiaen: Poèmes pour Mi; Les offrandes oubliées; Un sourire
Genres: Pop, Classical


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CD Details

All Artists: Olivier Messiaen, Jun Markl, Lyon National Orchestra, Anne Schwanewilms
Title: Messiaen: Poèmes pour Mi; Les offrandes oubliées; Un sourire
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Naxos
Original Release Date: 1/1/2009
Re-Release Date: 10/27/2009
Genres: Pop, Classical
Styles: Vocal Pop, Symphonies
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPCs: 747313217472, 747313217472

CD Reviews

Anne Schwanewilms, Jun Markl, ONDL: Messiaen: Poemes pour Mi
Dan Fee | Berkeley, CA USA | 11/05/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Pretty fast on the heels of two excellent volumes of Debussy orchestral music, with Music Director Jun Markl leading the Orchestre National de Lyon; we are further gifted with this Messiaen disc. The soprano soloist is a draw in her own right, having won the magazine Opernwelt's 2002 award for Singer of the Year, plus UK's BBC Music Magazine notice as Vocal Recording of the Year for 2008, in a disc of Strauss songs with piano. Schwanewilms also appears as soprano soloist in a Halle Orchestra recording of Strauss tone poems and orchestral songs, led by venerable Halle Music Director Sir Mark Elder. Soprano got game. So does the conductor and the band.

Anybody who already has one or both of the previously released Naxos Debussy discs will know our musical ballpark, so far as the band goes. Strong, crystal clear, etched playing in all departments; particularly including the woodwinds. The red book PCM sound is also clear, balanced, and full frequency, given the Auditorium de Lyon venue.

The song cycle Poemes pour Mi was set to texts by the composer himself, dedicated to his first wife Claire Delbos. Composer and wife spent a summer in French Alpine Petichet. The notion of a cycle of love songs may sound potentially sappy; but typical of Messiaen, the texts and music do not really go there. Instead, we get a tried and true Messiaen ethos of spirituality, nature, and love in both its human and divine manifestations. This is cosmic, transcendental stuff; not crooning or wooing one's beloved with promises and prostrations about undying fealty; but rather a musical and textual situating of one's love and one's beloved in a much larger frame of nearly harrowing vision, gone all grand, wild, and even sounding at times a bit crazed in an ecstatic state.

Well, like Bruckner, I suppose - either you find yourself musically and otherwise gripped by what Messiaen is doing. Or you are left untouched, disengaged, wondering what all the fuss is, and so forth. I'm leaning towards the fan listener audience; but I realize that Messiaen's music makes listeners work, despite all its sometimes frenzied colors, rhythms, layers of multiple tonality, and interjections of harmonic stillness in ineffable musical gestures of something like eternal spiritual repose and spiritual contemplation. Charles Ives told New Yorkers to stand up and use their ears like real men. Gustav Mahler told Jean Sibelius that a symphony must contain the whole world. Messiaen could hob-nob with that sort of composer for good company, though his technical means are somewhat different.

Speaking of musical associations, as I listened to the song cycle, I found myself thinking acoustically and musically of Benjamin Britten, especially his soprano version of the Les Illuminations song cycle set to Rimbaud's poetry. In passing, the ways Messiaen unfurls his vocal line, the ways he sets the French language text, sound to be closer kin to Britten than I would have guessed. If I were Naxos, I'd get plans for Anne Schwanewilms and Markl with Lyon penciled in fast on the project boards. Chances seem high that these Lyon musicians and this very soprano would give us a startling, sparkling Britten Les Illuminations. To fill out the disc, I suggest that Naxos producers get Schwanewilms doing lots more Richard Strauss, including the Four Last Songs. (Steer clear, is my advice, from the Naxos Vier Letzte Lieder with Ricarda Merbeth in Weimar; but do check out Schwanewilms in the three or so Strauss songs that fill out the Halle disc under Elder.)

Poemes pour Mi is set in two books, comprising nine songs total. Four songs in book one, five songs in book two. Book one, song one is Action de graces. The composer gives thanks to God for nature and for his beloved. Book one, song two is Paysage, wherein the music and text paint idylls of the French Alpine Petichet setting. Book one, song three is La maison. Its valorization of human love and home and hearth is set in the context of a spiritual light cast by the utter transience of all things. Book one, song four is Epouvante. Messiaen really digs deep into a dark engagement with the pain and loss of human happiness, one's beloved, and the celebration of love. Book two, song five is L'epouse. The text is very traditional, Catholic religious stuff - with the human love of man and wife mirroring the divine love of Christ for the Church universal. Book two, song six is Ta voix - returning us to Messiaen's favorite theme of birdsong and nature, such that the beloved's voice is Spring birdsong, celebrating the nature that points to a Creator. Book two, song seven is Les deux guerriers - The Two Warriors. Man and wife are soldiers, fighters - good struggling against evil. Book two, song eight is Le collier. Sensually, the necklace is not just fancy jewelry however priceless with precious metal and gems; but the morning embrace of the lover and the beloved. Book two, song nine concludes the cycle with Priere exaucee. Answered Prayer, the composer giving thanks to God for both human love and nature. The soprano with piano version was premiered in 1937, by soprano Marcelle Bunlet with the composer at the keyboard. The setting with orchestra was also done in 1937, but not performed entirely until as late as 1949.

I think I'll probably take the orchestral version as my first preference, any time. I think it would take an unusually adept pianist to reflect the colors that Messiaen conjures from the band.

As her raves suggest, soprano Anne Schwanewilms sets a high musical standard in this song cycle. I cannot comment definitively on her French as such; but she sounds quite authentic and committed to my North American ears. Her phrasing and intonation are well nigh impeccable; her vocal colors shining and changing with the music, just as the composer is revealing the modern orchestra as a zillion points of musical light.

To fill out the disc, Jun Markl and Lyon give us two orchestral pieces: Les offrandes oubliees (Forgotten Offerings), and Un sourire (A smile). The first work was Messiaen's first published orchestral score, and garnered him some public musical attention. It is a mystical-religious musical tribute to Forgotten Offerings, i.e., the Great Savior being forgotten and neglected in the venal bustle of the new century. Its opening is slow, with a fast and more violent sounding middle section, concluding with a third slow movement that yearns for the redemption of the pettiness and violence of the middle. A typical Messiaen gloss on the human condition, then; rooted in his religious Catholic vision. Polish conductor Marek Janowski commissioned the last orchestra work in tribute to the 1991 bicentenary of Mozart's death. Messiaen says he tried to make the music express the warmth, congeniality, and gifted good humor with which Mozart survived life's ups and downs. The music is typical Messiaen, however, with angular rhythms alternating with slow moving mystical harmonics. Either you dig Messiaen in these two pieces; or you don't, I guess.

This disc joins other remarkable Naxos catalog musical successes - like the Messiaen Turangalila symphony under Antoni Wit, the Elgar Sea Pictures song cycle with Sarah Connolly under Simon Wright in Bournemouth, and (of course) the existing two volumes of Debussy with Jun Markl and Lyon. The only possible improvement I can imagine would be to get such wonderful readings down in super audio surround sound; Messiaen's colors, rhythms, and crazy-mystical sense of cosmic dimensions fairly begs us to use multiple channels and super audio DSD high resolution. The red book PCM disc is very good; yet one imagines that SACD surround would add just that much more air and space to the soprano and players - bettering the already tangible musical-tonal color saturation. We can always hope for more Anne Schwanewilms, too, as in the Britten, and Richard Strauss.

Five Stars."
Great interpretation of difficult material
Jody Mullen | Hoboken, NJ | 12/09/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Although not a connoisseur of Messiaen, this 1936 song cycle is what I've come to expect from him: it's melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically complex, with unconventional, even bizarre colors. The listener almost experiences his synesthesia. The soprano's interpretation of this vocally and dramatically difficult music is impressive, but the content itself is so unusual that it's almost difficult to enjoy--it's beautiful, but conveys such a sense of tension. Jun Markl proves a sensitive and effective conductor, and the Orchestre National de Lyon is flawless."