Myung-Whun Chung / Radio France Orchestre Philharmonique

Myung-Whun Chung Conducts Messiaen

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Myung-Whun Chung is one of the foremost Messiaen conductors of his generation and he is gradually making his way though recording the composer's orchestral works for Deutsche Grammophon. This release features two of the composer's most important works, Trois Petites liturgies de la Présence divine and Couleurs de la cité celeste, as well as the lesser known Hymne au Saint-Sacrement pour grand orchestre. Trois Petites liturgies, for women's voices, piano, Ondes Martenot, strings, and percussion, is one of Messiaen's most immediately appealing works. Sections of ethereal, lyrical serenity are thrown into stark relief with moments of harsh, percussive declamation. The sweetness might be cloying if it was not balanced with the brash interjections, and the juxtaposition of the elements is powerfully effecting. Couleurs de la cité celeste, for piano and orchestra (1963-1964), is by no means a piano concerto, but the composer uses the instrument to strategically augment the timbral possibilities of the orchestra. It's a spare and angular piece in which birdsong is prominently featured, and eruptions of dense activity alternate with skittering solos. Couleurs is not a piece that easily reveals its logic; it's best experienced by relinquishing expectations of understanding what is going on and just accepting its unpredictable unfolding. Messiaen wrote Hymne au Saint-Sacrement when he was in his mid-twenties, but the score was lost and he re-created it in 1946. In spite of the composer's youth the music is identifiably Messiaen's, but with a soft-hued impressionist influence also evident. Chung's performances, leading the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, are notable for their crisp attention to detail, as well as a deep understanding of the composer's aesthetic. That understanding gives a musicality to Messiaen's sometimes obscure logic and persuasively pulls the listener through even the spikiest passages. Chung also has a strong sense of the music's dramatic sweep; particularly in Trois Petites liturgies, the climaxes are breathtakingly elemental. Deutsche Grammophon's sound is immaculate, allowing the smallest details to be distinctly heard.

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