Useful Messiaen from Märkl on Naxos

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

Messiaen’s tone poems Le tombeau resplendissant and Hymne are early works (1931-32), save for the fact that the score of the latter was lost and the work was reconstructed from memory by the composer in the late 1940s at the request of none other than Leopold Stokowski. They are already very characteristic of the composer: passages of dense harmony and complex rhythm alternate in blocks. Development in the traditional sense is minimal, but the music in both works is far more continuous and tonal than in many of the composer’s later pieces, and the birdsong influence has yet to manifest itself. Jun Märkl and the Lyon orchestra turn in fine performances of both pieces.

The score to Hymne suggests a playing time of around 12 minutes, which is very quick. This performance lasts 15, which is still quicker than Chung (DG), and it sounds just right. In Le tombeau Märkl brings plenty of fire to the turbulent outer sections, then relaxes far more than Chung for the tender central interlude. Given that this work was meant as a memorial tribute to the composer’s mother, who had died a few years earlier of tuberculosis, Märkl’s gentler, sweeter view of the passage, which is mostly scored for strings, is very convincing. These two works are not readily available outside of the big Messiaen sets, so having them together here likely will plug a gap in many a Messiaen collection.

Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (1964), for winds and percussion, is a fully mature work full of imaginative writing, and like most of the composer’s later pieces it allows very little latitude for interpretation. It’s kind of like a pre-packaged cake mix: just follow the directions and the result usually turns out fine. At one point in the second movement, where Messiaen writes, “The counterpoint in the gongs, mysterious but audible,” Märkl plays the passage a bit too softly, and in general the piece would have benefited from a wider dynamic range; but the performance is basically very good. The birdsong imitations, by the woodwinds in particular, are realistic but also musical, and Märkl very carefully balances those thick, heavy, “colorful” chords that Messiaen loves so much. The concluding vision of the resurrection (of the dead) is appropriately overwhelming.

Aside from the occasional spotlight thrown on the tuned cowbells in Et exspecto, the entire production is well engineered. In sum, a smartly planned and well executed disc, and a very nice addition to your Messiaen collection.



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Recording Details:

  • MESSIAEN, OLIVIER:
    Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum; Le tombeau resplendissant; Hymne

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