Eugeniusz Knapik

Olivier Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus

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Pianist and composer Eugeniusz Knapik, who has made a specialty of modern and contemporary repertoire, particularly the music of Olivier Messiaen, was the first Polish musician to give a complete performance of Messiaen's massive 1944 cycle, Vingt regards sur L'Enfant-Jésus. The composer was in attendance and offered high praise for Knapik's technique and sensitivity to the colors of the music. He recorded the piece in 1979, but because the political upheavals in Poland in 1981 got in the way of its release this 2011 Dux album offers it to the public for the first time. Vingt regards has no lack of stellar interpretations by pianists like Yvonne Loriod (the composer's wife), John Ogdon, Peter Serkin, and Pierre-Laurent Aimard, but Knapik's version holds up well even in this august company. He certainly has the technical facility to put across the music's daunting demands for the fleetest agility and granitic power with apparent ease. Knapik clearly understands the logic behind the music and makes sense of its volatility and manically juxtaposed moods. Overall, his is a poetic rather than a flashy approach, so the sections where the composer cuts loose with music requiring dazzling dexterity and brilliance (like the eighth movement, "Regard des hauteurs") or profound monumentality (like the twelfth movement, "La Parole toute-puissante") stand out in dramatic relief. One of the challenges in pulling off a work of this scope -- it lasts over two hours -- especially one in which there are frequent returns of motivic material, is giving shape to the music's overall trajectory, and keeping things fresh and surprising, and Knapik is entirely successful in doing that. His interpretation grows in impressiveness as the piece progresses, as his expression of the composer's grand design becomes ever more apparent and inexorable. The sound of the recording, made over 30 years before it was released, betrays its age, and is less than impeccably clean and is somewhat blunt. That becomes less noticeable as the performance progresses, though, and the intelligence and energy of Knapik's playing and the music's momentum take over.

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