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Native DSD, Choral music and DSD fans, you’ll eat this one up.

December 6, 2018

Craig Zeichner is the Associate Director of Marketing and Copy at Carnegie Hall.

L’Amour et la foi
Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Danish National Concert Choir
Danish National Chamber Orchestra
Marcus Creed, Conductor
Olivier Messiaen’s choral music has never enjoyed the recognition his organ, piano, chamber, and orchestral works have. His La Nativité du Seigneur (organ), Quatuor pour la fin du temps (chamber music), and Turangalîla-Symphonie (orchestra) are regularly performed; while his Trois Petites liturgies de la Presence Divine and Cinq Rechants are heard less often. The other work on this superb recording, O sacrum convivium, might resonate for some as it does turn up occasionally as an Offertory motet during the Mass and as a stand-alone in choral concerts. No matter, this recording will dazzle you whether you hearing these works for the first time or are well-acquainted with them.
Trois Petites liturgies de la Presence Divine was written during the Nazi occupation of France and shortly after Messiaen’s release from a prisoner of war camp. A visionary work, it’s a superb synthesis of the composer’s devout Christian belief and fascination with tonal color, unusual textures, and exotic rhythms—it is ecstatic worship that shouts, sings, and soars. It is also a difficult work to perform as singers have to negotiate hairpin harmonic and rhythmic turns while wrestling with its stratospheric tessitura. The women of the Danish choirs are spectacular. Their dangerously exposed entrances, often at the top part of their registers, are spot on pitch and their singing communicates the wondrous joy of the text. The Danish National Chamber Orchestra are outstanding and kudos to pianist Marianna Shirinyan, who absolutely nails the bird song passages.
The gorgeous motet O sacrum convivium is an early work and the only one in which Messiaen uses a liturgical text (this by St. Thomas Aquinas). Its fluid lyricism, chant-like style, unique harmonies, and flat-out beautiful soprano line glow in this performance. Contrasting with the frenetic passions of the Trois Petites liturgies de la Presence Divine and Cinq Rechants, the motet’s other-worldly languor is all the more powerful.
Cinq rechants, from 1948, is—like the earlier Harawi and Turangalîla-Symphonie—inspired by the Tristan and Isolde myth and was called a “love song” by the composer. Scored for 12 solo voices and sung in French and a Sanskrit-like language invented by Messiaen, it pushes the boundaries of choral writing. There’s vibrant declamatory passages, honeyed melodies contrasting with crunching dissonances and—perhaps most remarkably—voices used to color harmonies and create percussive effects. Not for the timid of heart, Cinq rechants is one of the most fascinating explorations of what the human voice is capable of.
As I mentioned earlier, the performances are stunning. The vocal ensembles’ control of dynamics is extraordinary and there is a warmth to their singing that is absolutely fetching. One key component is the sound quality. In dense passages where voices collide with instruments—like the piercing ondes martenot or percussion—there is a pinpoint clarity that allows you to hear every detail. For example, there is a passage in the Trois Petites liturgies de la Presence Divine where piano, ondes martenot, and percussion are pouring out a tremendous volume of sound, yet I was able to hear the whispering maracas through the mix. I can think of no better introduction to Messiaen’s delirious and delightful choral music than L’amour et la foi. Choral music and DSD fans, you’ll eat this one up. Craig Zeichner, December 07,2018