Messiaen
Éclairs sur l’Au-delà…
Berliner Philharmoniker
Sir Simon Rattle

Recorded between 17-19 June 2004 in the Philharmonie, Berlin
CD No: EMI 5577882
Duration: 60 minutes
Reviewed: September 2004
Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic have been touring Olivier Messiaen’s final orchestral work to the summer’s music festivals, including the Proms, and made this studio recording ‘at home’ before setting off on their travels.
In responding to a New York Philharmonic commission (the premiere given in 1992 under Zubin Mehta after the composer’s death), Messiaen seems to be consciously rounding-off his creativity. There are look-backs to L’Ascension (one of his earliest successes), further flirtations with birdsong (a constant fascination for him), a distillation of stylistic traits and, not least, an anticipation of new realms, of something beyond this world.
The eleven movements that make up Éclairs sur l’Au-delà… each has fascination, a parading of colour and effects bound by a certain naivety and enormous sophistication. One can sometimes smile at the composer’s ideas (yet what he has to say seems entirely unselfconscious and absolutely sincere) and be thrilled by the dramatic outbursts and greatly moved by the eloquence of movements like ‘Demeurer dans l’amour’, a ‘distant’ utterance for strings, silence so important, and beautifully played here, that holds the air and suspends the listener.
Éclair is a wide-ranging, evocative score, one that teems with dynamism and colour. For all that Rattle’s championing of it will undoubtedly bring the work even more interest than hitherto, his is the fifth recording of it – and also the one that takes the least time over it. At a few seconds over one hour, Rattle knocks several minutes off of Myung-Whun Chung’s premiere recording (DG) but is in agreement with David Porcelijn (ABC); Sylvain Cambreling, on Hänssler, takes 76 minutes. The Messiaen student will want to know all these views – the other recording is under Antoni Wit – but as a library choice, and for the curious, Rattle’s fabulously well played and vividly recorded version, is the one to go for. This vital and taut account, one relishing space as much as impact, is entirely within the gift of Rattle and his orchestra. His deeply instinctive response and the musicians’ mastery of the music’s technicalities makes one re-think Éclairs in the most positive way.

 

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