Louise Bessette, Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus

Justin Davidson

By Justin Davidson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
The musical equivalent of a one-man reenactment of the Bible.

Olivier Messiaen's was a muscular, physical faith, expressed in revelatory bursts and deafening epiphanies. He sermonized through sonic spectacle: “éclairs sur l'au dela” (“Visions of the Beyond”) consists of a procession of charged and visionary moments, ringing with supersaturated dissonances, Doomsday drums, masses of trembling strings and explosions of ecstatic chimes. But he did not really need a symphony orchestra to achieve this dazzling, stained-glass luminescence. His colossal opus, “Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus” (“Twenty Views of the Baby Jesus”) is threaded through with brilliantly hued harmonies and a visceral, mystical urgency. Using nothing but a poor, percussive piano, he evokes heavenly fanfares and seraphs'thundering harps, as well as the fragile trace of a prayer floated in the wind. “Vingt regards” is the musical equivalent of a one-man reenactment of the Bible.