Albums

Masses, Passions, Requiems - Released October 19, 2018 | Glossa

Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or - Le Choix de France Musique
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The modern-day appreciation of Francesco Bartolomeo Conti takes a decisive turn in the direction of his church music with this early eighteenth-century composer’s Missa Sancti Pauli given an ideal recording on Glossa by György Vashegyi, the Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra. Conti was a Florentine who worked for much of his career in the Imperial Court in Vienna, generating much attention there – the ever-observant Johann Sebastian Bach and Zelenka were both known to have been attracted by his music. Curiously, it was liturgical works like this 1715 Missa Sancti Pauli which kept Conti’s name known until near to the end of the nineteenth century rather than the operas, oratorios and cantatas with which he delighted the Viennese Court and which have hitherto been receiving the attention of artists and record labels today. If Conti’s church music is less fledgling Classical than his dramatic fare, there is much in the way of melodic tunefulness and concertato style – for both voices and instruments – to combine with fugalimitative writing reminiscent of the “stile antico”. The work is a “Credo Mass” (both Mozart and Beethoven were to write examples of this genre, with its rondolike restatement of the word in the Credo section. The tone, control, presence and unity of the Purcell Choir have been amply demonstrated already on Glossa in music of the French Baroque – Rameau and Mondonville in particular – and the singers are given full opportunity to shine in Conti’s mass – as are the orchestra, comprised mainly of strings, and the vocal soloists, who include Adriána Kalafszky, Péter Bárány, Zoltán Megyesi and Thomas Dolié. Bárány and Megyesi are also soloists in two additional works: the motet, Fastos caeli audite and the aria Pie Jesu, ad te refugio. © Glossa
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Sacred Vocal Music - Released September 28, 2018 | harmonia mundi

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
It's thanks to a complete stroke of luck that several of Pierre Bouteiller's rare works have been preserved for posterity, including this Messe à cinq voix. During a long journey from Paris to Strasbourg, Sébastien de Brossard – who was relying on the collegial hospitality of chapel masters at various churches along the route – found himself lodging with Bouteiller, who was working at Châlons-sur-Marne. The two musicians exchanged manuscripts, including thirteen motets and the Messe pour les défunts by Bouteiller, which have been found in Brossard's private library. In order to bring these works by Brossard and Bouteiller to life, and to perform them in the manner that they were sung in their day, during funerals, Paul Agnew, leader of the Arts Florissants has chosen to insert plain-chant sections to mark different points along the cortège and the funeral rites. In the reconstruction offered in this recording, Brossard's Miserere comes sandwiched between two organ pieces – the instrumental Kyrie by André Raison – which figures in the procession towards the tomb, and then the return to the church. The time of the Sun King is reconstructed with care, right down to the choice of acoustics (the Abbey of the Holy Trinity in Lessaye, Manche) and the selection of vocalists. © SM/Qobuz
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Cantatas (sacred) - Released September 21, 2018 | Phi

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
For the fourth time on the Phi label, Philippe Herreweghe presents three cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach – Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 4, Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild, BWV 79, and Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80. Written at different moments in the composer’s life and based to a large extent on the works of Martin Luther, these cantatas reflect a marked taste for dramaturgy, vivid word painting and an invariably astonishing use of instruments and voices. Philippe Herreweghe and Collegium Vocale Gent give us an accomplished version of these masterpieces, confirming, if further proof were needed, their stature as ardent champions of Bach. © Outhere Music
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Sacred Vocal Music - Released September 7, 2018 | Coviello Classics

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
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Sacred Oratorios - Released August 31, 2018 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - 5 Sterne Fono Forum Klassik
There is no shortage of parallels to be drawn between Caldara and Vivaldi: both Venetians, both boasting an impressive body of work running to several hundred pieces of all genres, both died in Vienna (in the same street and in the same penury!), although Caldara had written more operas and oratorios than the Red Priest. And here is one of these very 32 known oratorios, Maddalena ai piedi di Christo written in Venice around 1698; it is "oratorio volgare", that is, recited in Italian, rather than Latin. Originally written as an accompaniment to spiritual exercises, the oratorio came to replace profane operas when the theatres were closed, especially from November to Lent. It took on the guise of opera, and used many of its techniques: naves and altars were (re)decorated and mechanisms and costumes were employed. In reality, it was nothing but an opera with a religious theme... The words and the plot of Maddalena ai piedi di Christo are perfectly suited to these months of penitence. It is a drama of the moral breakdown that tortures the sinner who has to choose between worldly and heavenly love, between living a life of luxury and truly promising herself to Christ. The Le Banquet Céleste ensemble, led by Damien Guillon (who also sings the alto part of Divine Love), takes to this rare piece with fervour. © SM/Qobuz
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Sacred Vocal Music - Released June 8, 2018 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Gramophone Editor's Choice - Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik
In 1668, Dietrich Buxtehude, then thirty one years old, took up the very sought-after tenure of organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, then a Hanseatic metropolis of considerable relevance; the organist had at that time one of the most desirable social statuses. He soon caused a sensation with the church concerts he held outside of religious services and that happened every year, in the early evening, on the five Sundays preceding Christmas. During these “Abendmusiken” (vespertine music), as they were called, were sometimes performed great works falling withing the oratorio genre, but more often was performed a mix of instrumental pieces, church tunes, psalm arrangements and cantata-like works. From the 1700s, these series of concerts had become a major cultural event of the city. Released from the daily handling of religious music handled by the Marienkirche’s Cantor—as was often the case at the time in North Germany—, Buxtehude only composed works on his own initiative, which allowed him to give them a quality level noticeably higher than that of the Cantor, for example, forced to compose non-stop, from one Sunday to another. The cantatas recorded here demonstrate the high artistic ambitions of these vocal works: they often digress from stylistic and generic conventions of their time and answer the tasks imposed by the texts with bold musical solutions, daring and absolutely splendid. The sonatas from Buxtehude completing the vocal program of this disc are also characterized by their markedly experimental character. Olivier Fortin’s Masques Ensemble—recorder, strings, positive organ—and Lionel Meunier’s Vox Luminis join forces to offer us these gems from the turn of the North German 18th century, such gems that the young Bach didn’t hesitate, in 1705, to travel on foot from Arnstadt—a 100-league trip—to come listen to Buxtehude, his organ play and probably his famous Abendmusiken. © SM/Qobuz
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Cantatas (sacred) - Released May 25, 2018 | harmonia mundi

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
Bach's "Dialogue Cantatas" generally portrayed Jesus in dialogue with the human soul, first tormented and then at peace. The three cantatas selected here by Berlin's Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, which has, over the years since 1982 (with over a million records sold!) brought together musicians from the city's different orchestras – first those under Soviet rule and then all orchestras following the fall of the Wall – are a part of this genre; all date from the great Leipzig period, specifically the third cycle written by Bach for Leipzig in 1726. It will come as no surprise, hearing these cantatas, that the essence of the first arias is desperate, heart-rending: and as they go on, they move towards relief and joy. It is in these first moments that we see Bach at his most intense, most pained, most chromatic, terribly modern as well as at his most romantic, profoundly lyrical and yet rigorous in the musical discourse. The most superbly original piece is surely the Cantata BWV 49, which begins with a Sinfonia with obbligato organ – in which the listener will recognise the final movement of the Harpsichord Concerto in E Major, when Bach recycled it a dozen years later – and continues with an aria with cello and oboe, both soloists immersed in the soprano's joyous voice; and we finish on a magnificent chorale with an aria – the aria being for the bass of the solo organ, while the soprano part sings the chorale's theme from on high: a staggering display of modernity. © SM/Qobuz
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Sacred Vocal Music - Released April 20, 2018 | deutsche harmonia mundi

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
If we are to believe the archives of the Inquisition – and they knew a thing or two about partying – music played too big a role in a number of convents in the early Renaissance. Of course, plain-chant had always been a part of the liturgy, but it seems that the nuns were overstepping the mark and getting into playing all manner of contemporary music. This should hardly come as a surprise, as well-bred young women enjoyed a broad culture on the one hand, and their religious duties didn't take up so much time, leaving them with a lot of time to dedicate to less-holy activities on the other. These concerts were given in convent schools; but they were big draws. There was a limit to their musical possibilities: no male voices, of course, so the nuns had no choice but to give the tenor and bass parts to deeper instruments, which they would play themselves, such as bassoons or trombones. This album contains the movements that make up the full mass, mostly from the works of Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). But this is not an attempt to reproduce a particular mass: the documentation in those days wasn't precise enough to allow that. Rather, it is an "imaginary mass" from Renaissance Spain, with responses and plainsong interspersed among richly polyphonic movements. Of course, we only hear women's voices, as well as some purely-instrumental pieces. The album closes with Adorámoste Señor by Francisco de la Torre (1483-1507), which is almost a century older than the pieces by Victoria de la Torre from whom the ensemble Capella de la Torre took its name. © SM/Qobuz
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Cantatas (sacred) - Released April 20, 2018 | Audax

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
Continuing their research into the vast hinterland of German cantatas from the early baroque period, Johannes Pramsohler and the musicians of his excellent Diderot Ensemble here dive into the austere and strange music of Biber, but also the less-well-known works of Johann Christoph Bach, great uncle of Johann Sebastian and musicians like Pachelbel, Bruhns and Eberlin. Johannes Pramsohler brings a particular fire and mystical sensuality to this new album (heavenly and earthly delights never being so far apart), and intense celestial flights to his violin playing. A range of international singers have left behind opera and dived with staggering ease into a completely different repertoire. The architects of this success, the supply and airy voice of the Canadian mezzo Andrea Hill, the perfectly gloomy timbre of Spanish tenor Jorge Navarro Colorado and the dark colours of the Argentine bass Nahuel di Pierro, sound the depths of this music driven by a great piety. © François Hudry/Qobuz
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Sacred Vocal Music - Released March 30, 2018 | Ligia

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Masses, Passions, Requiems - Released March 16, 2018 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - Choc de Classica
Mass by Bernstein, first performed in 1971, defies classification. It is not really a mass in the strict sense, but more of a kind of deconstruction of a traditional mass; after all, the full title is MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers and the theme resembles a divine service which turns sour before finally discovering universal peace. At the outset, the world seems to be at one, but then "street musicians" begin questioning the need for, or even the very existence of, a god. Cacophony reigns until the cataclysmic elevation of the host, when finally peace breaks out, when the Celebrant brings everyone together around the holy spirit, before intoning a final "go in peace". Bernstein's score brings together all the myriad elements of 20th century music: jazz, blues, rock, Broadway, expressionism, dodecaphonism, modernism with a hint of Britten, street music, fanfares, classical song mixed with rock and jazz voices and Gospel recitations: a veritable Tower of Babel which is hard even to list in a single breath. But Yannick Nézet-Séguin can be trusted to knit all these disparate elements together. Note also that this is a live concert recording, with a breathtaking spatial distribution. Putting history aside, the FBI – never one to miss out on a chance to look ridiculous – decided that Mass was pacifist, anti-establishment propaganda and begged Nixon to boycott its opening night. After all, the work had been commissioned by Jackie Kennedy for the inauguration of the Washington Kennedy Center for the Arts, when America was in the middle of its Vietnamese quagmire...© SM/Qobuz
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Sacred Vocal Music - Released February 23, 2018 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 4F de Télérama - Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik - 5 étoiles de Classica
What a fascinating assembly work this is by Simon-Pierre Bestion, like creating a Grand Cru from already sublime sources. On the first hand he took The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, by Heinrich Schütz, performed as a whole – but “interspersed” with a dozen wonderful madrigals from Johann Hermann Schein’s Israelsbrünnlein. Knowing both works were made in 1623 and that Schütz and Schein were good friends, one born in 1585, the other in 86, the stars really did align perfectly. But the distinctive feature of this recording is that for Schütz’s Resurrection, the singer in the role of the evangelist is no less than Byzantine cantor Georges Abdallah, whose unique voice, elocution, magnificent art of ornamentation and micro-deviations confer this partition − deliberately designed in an archaic way – an unsuspected richness. As for Israelsbrünnlein, Bestion selected nine madrigals out of the twenty-six featured in the collection and interspersed them between each numbers of The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, thus creating a sort of new piece, co-authored by Schütz and Schein. Furthermore he redistributed Schütz’s instrumentation, initially designed for four viols, but which benefits greatly from the addition of cornets and sackbuts – creating a subtle play of sound exchanges, from one musical cell to the other. Regarding Schein, the partition was originally designed for voices, with no indication on instruments, but in line with the customs of the era, nothing prevented a line, part or cell to be assigned to an instrument or instrumental group and to exchange freely with the voices, according to the interpreters’ imagination. Some madrigals were exclusively given to the orchestral ensemble – which became a proper orchestra a-la-Gabrieli –, others were a blend of instruments and voices. As the listener may guess, here is a truly exciting album, granted very unusual and original, but extraordinarily well crafted. And of course let’s not forget the exceptional acoustics of the chapel of the Palace of Versailles, which further adds to the musical mystery of the recording. © SM/Qobuz
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Cantatas (sacred) - Released February 16, 2018 | Mirare

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Gramophone Editor's Choice - Diapason d'or / Arte
The cantata Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe (Jesus gathered the twelve to Himself) BWV 22, holds a historic place in Bach’s work. Indeed he composed it while still in Köthen, as an audition piece for the position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig, and then conducted it on February 7th, 1723, maybe even singing the bass part himself. Famously the city council, unable to convince its preferred composers – Telemann, Graupner and two others –, decided to settle with “mediocre” Bach… The gospel of the day first announces his death and his resurrection by Christ and his disciplines. A modest orchestra: voices, strings, one oboe and continuo, but the musical content is – like in almost all of Bach’s cantatas – amongst the best he’s ever written. For the same celebration, Bach composed a new cantata the following year, Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott (Lord Jesus Christ, true Man and God) BWV 127. But it has almost nothing in common with the previous piece: here Bach offers a very impressive reflection on physical death. Throughout his cantatas he called for a blessed death to free himself from the vicissitudes of life on Earth, but this now reveals how much he may have feared physical death itself. The aria ”Die Seele ruht” is one of these sublime moments suspended in time, an ineffable tintinnabulum, in which the soprano and the oboe dialogue on a harrowing theme while the flutes and string pizzicatos symbolise the passing of time with incredible beauty. Finally it’s with Die Elenden sollen essen (The miserable shall eat) BWV 75 that Bach started off his work in Leipzig, in St. Nicholas Church this time, as the cantatas were alternately performed in both churches. Probably because he wanted to start with a bang, he designed this cantata on a huge scale: fourteen numbers, divided in two parts. Of course Bach would have never been able to produce such vast and powerful partitions on a weekly basis, but there is a real substance to this Passion… and it’s with great passion that Philippe Pierlot, his Ricercar Consort and the soloists perform these masterpieces. © SM/Qobuz

Sacred Vocal Music - Released December 1, 2017 | BIS

Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or
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We can only welcome the appearance of new recordings of Bach's Motets: these unique works which defy classification are also often difficult to date accurately. The common factor shared by those Motets which have survived to the present day (because many were lost) appears to be the purely choral conception of the musical discourse, from end to end, the absence of instrumentation - if they are played with instruments, the latter only back up the choral parts (excluding the BWV118, initially believed to be a cantata as it was written with a small musical accompaniment, but the form remains that of a short motet, hence the uncertainty about which classification to give it) - the deliberate archaism  of the words, and the likely funereal purpose of most of the works. The Norwegian Soloists' Choir (Det Norske Solistkor) is one of the foremost Norwegian musical ensembles and one of the best chamber choirs in Europe. The choir is just as comfortable with the classical/romantic repertoire as with contemporary music and makes frequent forays into music derived from romantic national folkloric works. The ensemble was founded in 1950 by the composer Knut Nystedt, who led it for four decades. In 1990, he was succeeded by Grete Pedersen, and she now directs the group - with the help of the Allegria Ensemble, also Norwegian - for this fine recording. © SM/Qobuz
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Sacred Vocal Music - Released November 10, 2017 | harmonia mundi

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - Choc de Classica
From the outset it should be said that this – sumptuous – album of Monteverdi’s Selva morale e spirituale (literally Moral and Spiritual Forest) doesn’t feature the complete collection of some forty titles contained in the master’s last work published in 1640, but rather a carefully minded selection of fifteen titles to provide the broadest possible overview of the various styles as well as melodic and choral genres approached by Monteverdi, with indeed a penchant for the sacred. A complete collection would have required three to four hours… Let’s get to the point: Pablo Heras-Casado’s reading at the head of the Balthasar Neumann Choir and Ensemble is absolutely stunning, allowing ample room for the vocal and instrumental colours (because Monteverdi quite specifically described the instrumentations and alternations between vocals and instruments) and sound layers so specific to the Venetian language. Undoubtedly Heras-Casado has proven to be not only an excellent symphonic conductor, but also that he fully understand the art of vocals and the writing of the Renaissance. © SM/Qobuz

Masses, Passions, Requiems - Released October 13, 2017 | SDG

Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or - Gramophone Editor's Choice - Le Choix de France Musique - 5 Sterne Fono Forum Jazz
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So much can be said about this new recording featuring among others − but as the pièce de résistance − Bach’s Magnificat, performed by John Eliot Gardiner, that we simply don’t know where to start! In 1983 – already 35 years ago! – Gardiner gave his first vision of Magnificat BWV 234 in D major; here the version in question is the BWV 234a in E flat major, the original and initial version, the – extended – one Bach wrote as soon as 1723 while the BWV 234 version (more often played nowadays) only arose from adjustments made ten years later. Of course one can debate on the advantages of one over the other but for this recording, Gardiner put emphasis on the brilliance, vibrancy and stunning virtuosity imposed by the E-flat major tone and vigorous tempi, in other words: undeniably modern! Magnificat is preceded by the Mass in F major, one of Bach’s four Lutheran masses, proper gems that are too rarely performed. It’s worth noting that most movements are recycled from previous cantatas, but with thorough rewrites of course! You’ll also find one of Gardiner’s favourite cantatas, Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt (Sweet comfort, my Jesus comes), BWV 151, composed for the Christmas period. With his English Baroque Soloists, his Monteverdi Choir and a broad group of soloists (the alto parts are given to a male voice, it’s worth mentioning in case… it’s not your cup of tea), Gardiner is once again standing on top of a great success.
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Sacred Vocal Music - Released October 13, 2017 | Arcana

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
Less famous—at least these days—than his colleague, “rival” and almost contemporary Giovanni Gabrieli, Giovanni Croce also worked in Venice, but wrote less in the sacred polychoral style and more in madrigals for four or five voices (often profane, carefree and happy) than Gabrieli. That being said, here’s some of his works for eight voices—often polychoral then—released in Venice in 1596 for the motets, and in 1605 for the Sacrae Cantiones, testimonies of his consummate art of melody and harmony. By comparison, the ensembles Voces Suaves—vocal— and Concerto Scirocco—instrumental—have chosen to include some works from the two Gabrielis, Andrea and his nephew Giovanni, and also from Guami and Merulo, all tight contemporaries going from the middle of the XVIth century to the start of the next one. Cornets, sackbuts, viols, dulcians and organs (the one built in 1565 in the Church of Mantua, in which the album is recorded, for that matter) answer to the voices in the very rich and yet intimate acoustics of the place. © SM/Qobuz
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Cantatas (sacred) - Released September 8, 2017 | Phi

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - 5 étoiles de Classica
For the third time on the Phi label, Philippe Herreweghe gives us the opportunity to (re)discover three cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach – Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott, BWV 101, Ihr werdet weinen und heulen, BWV 103 and Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit, BWV 115. After two albums of cantatas written during the composer’s first year in Leipzig, the Belgian conductor and his Collegium Vocale Gent, orchestra and choir, will be performing three cantatas he composed during his second year as Kantor at St Thomas’s. The choir and vocal soloists are once again challenged to produce performances of subtlety and refined virtuosity, and the instrumentarium is as rich and colourful as those heard previously in this series. © Phi

Cantatas (sacred) - Released September 1, 2017 | PHI

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Sacred Vocal Music - Released August 18, 2017 | Seattle Symphony Media

Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - 5 étoiles de Classica
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Written in 1936 for his young wife Claire Delbos, Poèmes pour Mi (“Mi” being the nickname the composer gave her) is a kind of wedding gift, nine melodies for soprano and orchestra all directly or indirectly inspired by the Dauphiné landscapes Messiaen had fallen in love with. Even though he wasn’t yet 30, the composer had already found his style, which in its harmonic and rhythmic structure would scarcely change. In some of his poems you can even detect the accents he would go on to use 40 years later in Saint François d’Assise. It goes to show that good music remains good music and recycling − conscious or not − isn’t exclusive to composers of previous centuries! Here Jane Archibald, almost without a hint of accent, sings these small gems with great emotion. Trois petites liturgies de la présence divine, written in 1944 when he was liberated from a prisoner-of-war camp, was initially designed for a women’s choir, piano, ondes Martenot and string orchestra. The Seattle Orchestra and Ludovic Morlot decided to entrust the chorus part to a children’s choir, giving it a “purer” and more angelic sound – a charming idea. Upon creating his work in 1945 Messiaen could boast about a particularly prestigious panel of auditors: Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Francis Poulenc, Henri Sauguet, Alexis Roland-Manuel, André Jolivet, Claude Delvincourt, Lazare Lévy, Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur, Jean Wiener, Georges Braque, Paul Éluard, Pierre Henry and even Pierre Boulez (not yet famous but probably already predisposed to being spiteful). His success was as dazzling as immediate and lasting. It has everything that makes up Messiaen, including a rather virtuous piano part (played by Yvonne Loriod upon the work’s creation), little birds, Jesus Christ as well as his ever so specific chords, both brilliant and iridescent. © SM/Qobuz