William R. Braun
Messiaen: L'Amour et la Foi
Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Concert Choir and Chamber Orchestra; Shirinyan (piano), Bloch (ondes Martenot), Creed. Texts and translations. OUR Recordings 6.220612
THE TWO MAIN works on this all-Messiaen CD remain on the outer fringes of the repertoire, but for different reasons. The Trois petites liturgies de la Presence divine (which would make an excellent introduction to Messiaen's music for anyone who doesn't know it) require a unique instrumental ensemble, one difficult to assemble, to accompany the choral singers. The Cinq Rechants, on the other hand, are written for an easily recruited group of twelve a cappella singers, but the vocal lines and rhythms are of such grave difficulty that few ensembles take up the challenge.
Both pieces are well served by the Danish forces here. In the Liturgies, conductor Marcus Creed shapes the second movement in a way that keeps it from going into autopilot, eventually reaching heights of abandon, and his female choir is tireless. Its numbers are reduced from the standard contingent, which is a bit of a stretch for the singers, but the challenge is met. The third movement, an entirely different reverent experience, tends to drive a bit, and there is an unwonted sense of restraint to it emotionally. But Creed perhaps has the edge over other recorded versions in the beauty of sound when the choir is pared down to smaller groups. The solo pianist, Marianna Shirinyan, has an unusual and persuasive approach to the piece. She has a more probing and colorful interpretation than did Yvonne Loriod, who in her many performances tended to play as if etching the notes onto copper plates. Two conductors with long-term close associations with Messiaen and his music, Seiji Ozawa and Kent Nagano, have found more playfulness, rhythmic intensity and exaltation than Creed, but on his own terms he succeeds.
The Cinq Rechants, one of Messiaen's "Tristan" pieces and one he considered among his best, require twelve virtuoso singers. They are on hand here. Again, there is just a hint of caution and good manners rather than ecstatic abandon, but, still, the performance on its own terms is persuasive. A recording under Marcel Couraud, who commissioned the piece, is more buoyant in the quicker passages, but Creed brings a supple quality to the fourth movement, and his slower tempos certainly allow the ear to take in more details. The brief motet "O sacrum convivium!," the closest thing Messiaen has to a pantry staple, has here the chantlike flow that Messiaen wanted, a sense of invisible bar-lines. In an era when sound engineers like to boost instruments that are never prominent in live performance, it’s amusing to hear how instead they have used their powers to tamp down the ondes Martenot in the Liturgies, which in the concert hall can easily swamp the other fifty performers. —William R. Braun, November 2015