Reinbert de Leeuw

Olivier Messiaen 2: Des canyons aux étoiles...

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Messiaen wrote that his 90-minute tone poem, Des canyons aux étoiles... (From the canyons to the stars...), is religious (as are virtually all of his works), and, as the title suggests, geological and astronomical. He might have added that it is ornithological as well, since birdsong is a source of much of its material. It's a strange work, closer to his Turangalîla Symphony and Eclairs sur l'au delà than to any conventional form. Its large orchestra features the percussion especially prominently, and it has significant solo parts for piano, horn, xylorimba, and glockenspiel. The work is in three sections with a total of 12 movements, some for the solo instruments alone. The piece was written at the request of Alice Tully for the U.S. Bicentennial, and essentially represents the composer's visceral responses to the starkly beautiful landscape of three national parks in Utah: Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. Like the landscapes it describes, the music is alternately spare, jagged, unpredictable, structurally eccentric, monumental, and astonishingly beautiful. Particularly with the composer's detailed program notes in mind, it's a piece that's evocative and constantly engaging. It can be aggressive or contemplative, but the overwhelming impression it leaves is one of awe and ecstasy. Reinbert de Leeuw, one of the foremost Messiaen interpreters to emerge in the late twentieth century, is absolutely in tune with the composer's often cryptic musical logic, which in the hands of less insightful performers is not always apparent. De Leeuw's performance is fresh and spontaneous sounding, which, given Messiaen's carefully calibrated temporal irregularities, must be just what the composer intended. ASKO Ensemble, Schönberg Ensemble, and Slagwerkgroep den Haag play with exuberance and precision and with all the delicacy and monumentality the work requires. The final chord shimmers in the air for what seems like an eternity, and it's just breathtaking. Pianist Marja Bon and hornist Hans Dullaert are especially impressive in the solo parts. The sound is crystal clear and well-balanced, with an excellent sense of openness.

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