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Great 5 stars review in US Magazine Fanfare

April 4, 2023

Kim Meltzer

Five stars: A radiant performance of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus

MESSIAEN Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus  Kristoffer Hyldig (pn)  OUR RECORDINGS 6.220677-78 Super Audio (2 CDs: 138:11)
The liner notes for Kristoffer Hyldig’s new Our Recordings (OR) release of Olivier Messiaen’s extraordinary and monumental solo piano work Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus opens with a quote from the composer: “God for me is manifest, and my conception of sacred music derives from this conviction. God being present in all things, music dealing with theological subjects can and must be extremely varied.” And true to this statement, Messiaen’s 20 Gazes Upon the Infant Jesus is both a Catholic, and catholic, work. The Nativity is explored from a variety of narratives and perspectives, expressed in music that encompasses suggestions of ancient plainchant, tolling bells, bird sounds, and popular melodies, to name but a few elements. Messiaen’s affinity for jazz is also apparent. Movement X, Gaze of the Spirit of Joy depicts, according to Messiaen, “Violent dance…the joyous sound of horns, the rapture of the Holy Spirit…the joyous love for God in the soul of Jesus Christ…” Messiaen depicts this with evocations of boogie-woogie and Gershwin, especially the American composer’s “I Got Rhythm.” And Messiaen, such is his genius, does so without a hint of inappropriateness or kitsch. Messiaen provides considerable written assistance for anyone attempting an understanding of the composer’s epic, complex, and multifaceted score. Messiaen offers brief descriptions of the meaning of each of the 20 movements. He identifies the work’s three central themes of (Theme of God, Theme of Mystical Love, Theme of the Star and of the Cross), and specifies where and why they appear throughout the work. There are also numerous directions in the score beyond the expected dynamic and expressive markings.
Nonetheless, Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus is a monumental challenge for any pianist. Danish pianist Kristoffer Hyldig has long made the works of Olivier Messiaen a part of his repertoire. In an essay included in this OR release, Hyldig describes his intense preparation for the project. As part of his studies, Hyldig collaborated with dramaturg Mette Borg, who “has an exciting and refined approach to get inside the characters and moods of the themes, chords, and melodies of Messiaen’s score. In doing so, Mette Borg has demonstrated a way to discover the composer’s exotic, Catholic liturgical references, and make them resonate with my own Protestant cultural heritage.” Hyldig acknowledges: “I do not share the fervent religious enthusiasm of Messiaen.” Nevertheless, Hyldig found that his own “exploration can lead to an understanding that fuels my own enthusiasm.” A successful realization of Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus requires a pianist with considerable technical resources, and the ability to embrace completely Messiaen’s unique and richly all-embracing sound world. Kristoffer Hyldig succeeds on all counts. He plays with unwavering commitment and understanding, and the utmost tonal beauty. I also very much appreciate Hyldig’s willingness to take his time, and to give the many episodes of silence, so crucial in this work, their full due. The superb recording made in Copenhagen’s Vor Frelser’s Church captures the magical effect of the piano’s sound decay, and the gorgeous sonorities Hyldig coaxes from the instrument. Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus lends itself to many different performing approaches. I find Hyldig’s totally convincing, and quite moving. Recommended. Ken Meltzer, 04.04.2023

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