Fantastic new 5 stars review in Fanfare
April 8, 2023
Five Stars: It really deserves 10.
MESSAIEN Vingt Regards Sur L’enfant-Jésus • Kristoffer Hyldig (pn) • OUR RECORDINGS 6.220677-78 (138:11)
At the time of its 1945 premier, Messiaen’s Vingt Regards Sur L’enfant-Jésus was the largest piano work in his catalog and summed up the transcultural and technical intrigues of his compositional aesthetic. Musical themes from earlier works resonate throughout it, and the virtuosic two-hour cycle is replete with leitmotif and recurrence in the service of Debussian color. The works dedicatee, Yvonne Loriod, set the bar remarkably high with her several recordings, and there have been many superb discographical additions since, including Peter Serkin’s pioneering traversal and contributions from Peter Hill, Håkon Austbø, Pierre Laurent Aimard, Steven Osborne and the recent and excellent Bertrand Chamayou version. To suggest that Kristoffer Hyldig’s new traversal goes a long way toward sweeping the board might seem heretical, but it’s my recurrent impression.
The fact that Hyldig is no stranger to Messiaen’s music does not necessarily ensure a successful reading. There are those who have recorded Messiaen’s complete piano music who probably should not have bothered, as either their playing is accurate but dull or they were failed by inferior production, a badly maintained instrument, an unworthy acoustic or some combination thereof. Fortunately, Hyldig has all proverbial ducks in a row, as should be expected from OUR Recordings, who have already graced the Messiaen discography with music making of the highest order. Hyldig, who already has recordings of Messiaen’s song cycles and chamber music to his credit, differentiates himself from so many worthy proponents of the complex score with a stunning combination of extreme subtlety and Romantic grandeur.
First of all, and this is a personal preference, Hyldig takes the opening regard very slowly. It’s a bold move, but I think a necessary one. That opening music lays the groundwork for much that transpires throughout the cycle, but beyond that, it’s a glorious meditation, simple yet profound. Hyldig voices each chord with requisite care but also lets each resonate, each resonance supporting the next. Beyond that grand sweep, there are the details. Listen, just as a particularly repetitive example, to the way Hyldig voices the middle-register notes of Regard de la Vierge. His pianissimo is beyond astonishing as he floats those pitches just above silence, one of the most beautifully reflective piano gestures I’ve heard in quite some time. Even as rhythmic activity increases at 1:03, Hyldig’s tone remains reverently hushed, a magical effect aided by the resonant acoustic of Vor Frelsers church, Copenhagen. His subsequent crescendo and the broken octaves at 2:11 are neither overdone nor understated, and each return of the opening material emphasizes the music’s cyclic nature while avoiding slavishness. At the other end of the mammoth cycle, the chordal components of Regard de l'Eglise d'amour are gorgeously voiced, bringing out the God theme while never obscuring harmonic context. Speaking of context, the interlaced crescendi build with overwhelming power but do not eclipse the reiterated chordal passages that harken back to the opening regard. Messiaen’s “bells” almost sound like bells, each interregistral iteration emphasizing slightly different overtones, making each recurrence an event.
Finally, there is no way to do the monumental contrasts Hyldig achieves verbal justice. In his illuminating note, he cites interdisciplinary study of the mystery at the music’s core, but his vast and incalculably rich interpretation must be experienced in toto. One mystical experience is transformed and rendered inclusive. Hyldig makes the score live, breathe and resonate, both in each moment and as a totality. No more can be asked of a performer. Marc Medwin 08.04.23