London Newspaper Telegraph 5/5
June 7, 2023
Telegraph - London Newspaper
A magnificent new recording of Messiaen’s epic piano masterpiece
Messiaen's epic Vingt Regards sur L’Enfant Jésus - first performed just after the liberation of Paris - shines in Kristoffer Hyldig's new CD
ByIvan Hewett7 June 2023 • 9:00am
Un certain regard: Olivier Messiaen in 1948
Looming over the history of piano music are those great multi-movement works which take two hours or more to perform: Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues, Chopin’s Nocturnes, Debussy’s Preludes. They are huge, but they were never meant to be played at a single sitting. They are for sampling, one jewel-like piece at a time.
French composer Olivier Messiaen’s vast masterwork Vingt Regards sur L’Enfant Jésus is different. He wanted his audiences to sit still and absorb the entire 20-movement set in a single performance. We know this because that it is how the piece was first heard, on an evening in March 1945, just after Paris had been liberated from the Nazi occupying forces. The piece has to be heard that way, because the piece works cumulatively. We are meant to be engulfed in an imaginative evocation of an entire world-view, which as always with Messiaen was drawn from his Catholic faith. This particular work evokes the manifold significance of Jesus, “gazed” at from many viewpoints. There is the stern gaze of God the Father, the apocalyptic Gaze of the Stars, the tender view of the Kiss of Jesus. The “Dazzlement” of Christ’s majestic power is suggested by star-bursts of notes, giant clanging chords, and deep show chorales which move almost infinitely slowly.
To achieve this takes maximum concentration from the pianist, and the young Danish pianist Kristoffer Hyldig certainly achieves it on this new recording. It was made in a Copenhagen church rather than a studio, a good choice as the reverberant acoustic adds its own sense of vast mystery to Messiaen’s notes. Hyldig dares to take Messiaen’s tempo directions seriously, whether it’s the enormously slow speed of the first piece, where a single bar takes around 20 seconds, or the mad dance of the “Gaze of the Spirit of Joy” in the 10th piece. Messiaen’s directions are enormously precise in their complexity, but with Hyldig one never gets the impression of mechanical accuracy – in fact his rhythms have the supple elasticity of a Chopin Nocturne. And the numerous occasions where a repeating pattern gradually increases in complexity and power, like a dawn emerging into full sun, are enormously impressive.
Above all one gets the sense of cumulative power from the way the performances are adjusted to the context. For instance, the tempo of the beautiful movement called “Regard du Silence” is actually slower than the composer marked, and might be excessive if taken on its own, but after the apocalypse of the “Regard des Prophètes” it feels exactly right. In all this is a magnificent achievement. By Ivan Hewett7 June 2023 • 9:00am
Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur L’Enfant Jésus, performed by Kristoffer Hyldig, is released by OUR
Messiaen, Vingt Regards, Kristoffer Hyldig review: superb! (telegraph.co.uk)