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10/10 in Classics Today

August 23, 2023

Jed Distler

Classics Today (US)
The young Danish pianist Kristoffer Hyldig first came to my attention by way of his recording of Messiaen’s large-scale song cycle Harawi featuring mezzo-soprano Hetna Regitze Bruun, with whom he regularly performs. The pianist’s instinctive feeling for and total command of the composer’s colorfully intricate piano writing impressed the hell out of me. I imagined just how well Hyldig might fare in Messiaen’s solo piano music.
Imagine no longer. We now have the reality of Hyldig’s new recording of the piano cycle Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus, and it’s magnificent in every way. Because sonority and resonance prominently factor in this music, you immediately notice the excellent engineering, which captures how gorgeously the Steinway model D-274’s plangent definition and rich bass gorgeously mesh with the warm ambience of Vor Frelser’s Church in Copenhagen.
In the opening piece Regard du Père, Hyldig’s centered rhythm imparts both momentum and gravitas to his impeccably balanced slow moving chords. He sharply characterizes the short second piece’s extreme tempo and dynamic contrasts, as well as Messiaen’s “tender et naïf” directive for No. 4. While Pierre Laurent-Aimard takes the lyrical No. 15 Le baiser de l’Enfant-Jésus at nearly twice the composer’s extremely slow metronome marking (as Messiaen apparently sanctioned), Hyldig splits the difference between the two extremes.
Those accustomed to the lightness and flexibility that Steven Osborne, Peter Serkin, and Yvonne Loriod bring to the complex textural strands and virtuosic demands of No. 6 Par Lui tout a été fait and No. 10 Regard de l’Esprit de joie may find Hyldig’s compact phrasing and harder-hitting drive too breathless and unrelenting by comparison. Even superficial, perhaps. However, there’s room for both surface excitement and sustained introspection in an epic-scaled work full of emotional extremes, especially with an artist like Hyldig who can do pretty much anything he wants at the piano.
Both the pianist and Joshua Cheek provide informative and cogent annotations. It goes without saying that Vingt Regards has been lucky on disc, and collectors are spoiled for choice. My preferences remain with Aimard, Osborne, Serkin, and the recent Martin Helmchen release, while I have a soft spot for the idiosyncratic Anton Batagov’s uncommonly slow yet utterly gripping interpretations on Melodiya. Still, artistic excellence is its own justification, and Kristoffer Hyldig’s Vingt Regards deserves nothing less than our highest possible rating. Jed Distler, August 2023

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