Peter Hill

La Fauvette Passerinette: A Messiaen Première

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The title of this fine Delphian release advertises the Messiaen premiere contained therein, and no doubt this is big news. La Fauvette Passerinette (The Subalpine Warbler) was discovered by pianist Peter Hill among some Messiaen manuscripts he was studying. Composed in 1961 and essentially complete, the work was laid aside as the composer took up large orchestral commissions. Although accompanied by impressionistic notes about birdsong that resemble those connected with other works bearing the names of birds, the piece is sui generis among Messiaen's mature piano pieces; the accompaniment is tonally derived from the birdsong-like figures of the melodic line itself, rather than setting a natural backdrop, and the piece exhibits thematic development to a greater degree than in many other Messiaen pieces, concluding with a grand climax of a toccata. So, those interested in Messiaen will want the album for this intriguing work alone, but the best news is that the rest of the program does a fine job of putting Messiaen in context, situating him in relation to both predecessors all the way back to Maurice Ravel (one will never hear Miroirs quite the same way again) and forward to Toru Takemitsu and other major figures of the late 20th century. Pianist Hill pulls all this off with both logic and enthusiasm, and it's hard to think of a Messiaen release that will appeal so thoroughly to both specialists and generalists.

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