Messiaen: Chants De Terre Et De Ciel

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Label: ATMA
Catalog: ACD22564
Format: CD

Suzie LeBlanc - Soprano, Lawrence Wiliford - Tenor, Laura Andriani - Violin, Robert Kortgaard - Piano

Messiaen: Chants de Terre et de Ciel

The next disc to arrive is a remarkable release of early works by Olivier Messiaen featuring the outstanding Acadian singer Suzie Leblanc. Principally known for her crystalline renditions of baroque repertoire, this ATMA release, Chants de terre et de ciel (ACD2 2564), comes as a bit of a surprise. Featuring rarely heard works by the iconic French composer whose centenary is celebrated this year, this CD serves to bridge Messiaen’s early influences – with hints of Wagner and definite traces of Massenet and Debussy – and his more familiar mature style of the post-war years. But Leblanc’s purity of tone is very well suited to this repertoire. The disc includes two song cycles, one vocalise, a cantata for tenor, soprano, violin and piano - the only work in which Messiaen utilized a solo male voice (Lawrence Wiliford here) until the opera Saint-François d’Assise completed half a century later - and the more familiar Theme and Variations for violin and piano. Composed in 1930 the first song cycle, Trois Mélodies, pays tribute to Messiaen’s mother, poet Cécile Sauvage who had died of tuberculosis three years previously, with a setting of her Le Sourire book-ended by two poems by Messiaen himself. The second, Chants de terre et de ciel (Songs of Earth and Heaven), also on texts by the composer, is a celebration of the happy years of Messiaen’s life with his first wife Claire Delbos and the birth of their son Pascal, before Delbos’ illness and eventual descent into dementia. Delbos was an accomplished violinist and the Theme and Variations (performed by Laura Andriani and Robert Kortgaard who is the pianist throughout this disc) was composed as a wedding present for Messiaen’s bride in 1932. The Vocalise for soprano and piano was composed three years later. The otherwise very informative liner notes (complete with texts and English translations) fail to explain why we are presented here with a violin version of the soprano line. That minor quibble aside, this exceptional release provides valuable insight into Messiaen’s early years while showing another side of one this country’s most beloved singers. It is a joy to hear. Reviewed by David Olds. Reprinted from The Wholenote Magazine (www.thewholenote.com), Oct. 2008.

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