Ralph van Raat/Hakon Austbø, Messiaen: Visions de l’Amen; Debussy: En blanc et noir

Steve Holtje

By Steve Holtje

on 04.24.12 in Reviews

The literature for two pianos contains few masterpieces. Here are two modern exceptions. The three-movement En blanc et noir (In White and Black) is from 1915, in the “Indian Summer” of Debussy’s career. Compared to the classic Paul Jacobs/Gilbert Kalish recording, this lingers less in the slow movement and has a livelier Scherzando. The seat-of-the-pants excitement of the Jacobs/Kalish concert recording is replaced here by lapidary precision and better sound and balance.

Two modern two-piano masterpieces

Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen was written in 1943 for him and his piano student (later wife), Yvonne Loriod, to play together; it was the first of his monumental piano cycles. A 1962 stereo recording of Loriod and Messiaen playing it occasionally flits into print as an import; in timing it has similarities with this new recording (which, at 47:26, is a mere 14 seconds slower). Some movements can pall easily, but Raat and Austbø sound freshly vivid throughout.