For some years, conductor Michael Gielen amassed a body of accomplished Messiaen recordings, many made around the German-speaking world that has always been so sympathetic to this composer. They are perhaps all the more notable for having been made with a variety of orchestras; here, leading the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony, he sounds for all the world like a conductor who had been at the helm of the group for decades (which he had not). The precision of the sixth movement of Messiaen's late Chronochromie, with its plethora of birdsong, is marvelous, and the early, tonal Les Offrandes Oubliées is graceful and a bit spooky in a work that is not commonly under the fingers of orchestral players. Gielen may have been at his best, however, in his sensitivity to the abilities of individual performers. The performance of the Poèmes pour Mi by soprano Sarah Leonard is a standout. Singers in this work have to step into a great variety of roles, stemming from the multiple influences -- abstract rhythmic conceptions, reverential sacred music sounds, lyric-romantic moods of the traditional orchestral song, to begin the list -- and Leonard handles these confidently indeed. Her voice is chameleonic, and it is matched by Gielen at every turn. The Poèmes pour Mi are commonly enough recorded and performed, but even those satisfied with existing recordings owe it to themselves to try this one out.
Messiaen: Les Offrandes Oubliées; Poèmes pour Mi; Chronochromie Review
by James Manheim