Messiaen: Des Canyons aux Étoiles

Christoph Eschenbach / Tzimon Barto / London Philharmonic Orchestra / John Ryan

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Messiaen: Des Canyons aux Étoiles Review

by Blair Sanderson

Commissioned in 1971 by Alice Tully, Olivier Messiaen's Des canyons aux étoiles (From the canyons to the stars) was planned for the celebration of the bicentennial of the United States Declaration of Independence, though it was given its premiere performance in 1974. Messiaen found inspiration in Bryce Canyon in Utah, which he visited, and the music is an evocation of the vivid scenery and bird songs he encountered, though it should also be understood more broadly as a mystical hymn to nature, outer space, and heaven. In many ways, this large-scale, multi-movement work is reminiscent of Messiaen's Turangalîla-symphonie, though prominent in this score is a group of soloists playing horn, piano, xylorimba, and glockenspiel, which gives it the feeling of a concerto grosso updated for modern purposes. This live recording by Christoph Eschenbach and the London Philharmonic Orchestra offers extremely clear separation of parts and vivid sonorities, so everything is perfectly audible, though an opportunity was missed to present Des canyons aux étoiles in a multichannel recording, which it really needs. Even so, this exceptional stereo recording comes close to the audiophile ideal, and at many points, the positions of the soloists can be detected, thanks to the careful microphone placement.

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