Markus Bellheim

Messiaen: Complete Works for Piano Solo, Vol. 1

  • AllMusic Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by

There's no elegant English equivalent to the title of Messiaen's gigantic suite for piano Vingt Régards sur l'Enfant-Jésus (1944). "Régard" denotes a look of focused attention, and the closest translations would probably be Twenty Gazes on the Infant Jesus, or Twenty Contemplations of the Infant Jesus. Usually lasting well over two hours (Markus Bellheim's version runs over 140 minutes), it is one of the 20th century's monuments of music for solo piano, and is considered by many to be among the composer's finest works. Written a few years before the end of the period that culminated in his Turangalîla-symphonie, the work incorporates virtually all the elements that characterized Messiaen's vast and eccentric compositional arsenal, including birdsong, modes of limited transposition, non-retrogradable rhythms, extremes in register, startling contrasts, and additive rhythms, with thematic inspiration taken from the Bible and Catholic writers and from natural phenomena. Like most of Messiaen's music, it is driven not by convention, but by the logic of the composer's mysterious vision, which here is entirely compelling. The title suggests a work of contemplative nature, and while some movements do convey Messiaen's gift for creating a sense of serene timelessness, the music more often is wildly, sometimes violently exuberant, with ever-fresh ways of expressing transcendent ecstasy. The intelligent and passionate performance by German pianist Bellheim holds nothing back in its expression of the extremity and power and intensity of the score. His effortless-sounding technique gives him the freedom to really cut loose in the more rambunctious movements and play them with a thrilling, vertiginous abandon. The performances as a whole feel beautifully balanced because Bellheim can also bring to the quiet moments a free-floating tranquility and sweetness. This is his first volume in a series of the complete solos piano works by Messiaen, and it's exciting to anticipate his performances of the gargantuan Catalogue d'oiseaux, and the shorter piano works. The sound of Neos' SACD is natural and full.

blue highlight denotes track pick