Focus on Messiaen: Between Heaven & the Clouds
Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama
Friday 18th November 2016
The Messiaen celebrations ended at the RWC with an exquisite song recital by Raphaela Papadakis. Cordelia Williams was also back after playing the huge Vingt Regards, a feat which could most likely have pianists quaking.
In these early songs by Messiaen, there’s a huge influence of Debussy and Satie linger within the notes and words. They ooze sublime, French elegance and are tantamount to the early form of composition he had constructed. The second song of Trois Mélodies, La sourire is the only time Messiaen utilised poetry from his mother Cécile Sauvage (the verse is rich in details of whispers and smiles) and it’s so tender, ears may struggle to pick it out from the air.
The third song La financée perdue is personal favourite of mine. It starts off with bold affirmations about the passing of a lover (Messiaen owns poetry here and in the first song) and the sanctity of the union of marriage. Towards the end of the song, the floating melody on the keys and the heartfelt lamentations of the song line is so delicate and such a transcendent moment, most listeners are struck by its profundity.
Messiaen would continue writing songs and he wrote a whole set for his first wife Claire Delbos. Entitled Poèms pour Mi (with words by the composer), these songs have a variety of themes and moods, putting high demands on both singer and pianist. Highlights included Epouvante, an intensely angsty piece, filled with actual moaning and deep concerns about the void. It’s a startling encounter out of the full set of nine songs and it certainly stays with you.
Another great choice is Le collier. This swell song is an affectionate depiction of waking up in your lover’s arms, as if a necklace which adjourns you. The poetry is certainly vivid, depicting a sensual embrace shared with a partner: “Ah! My Necklace! Tiny living cushion for my ears.”
The beautifully voiced Papadakis is a singer to watch out for and her strength in this songs proves her musical agility. Williams again displaying great pianist prosperity being so much more than just an accompanist, instead bringing the instruments own role into the journey of the miraculous songs.
This was a fantastic way to end the festival. One hopes Messiaen continues to gain in popularity.
Well done RWC for putting this one!
Raphaela Papadakis & Cordelia Williams: 4 stars
An extended performance of Satie’s Vexations take place around Cardiff in 2017, as a fundraiser for OCD UK, with such venues as the Wales Millennium Centre, St. John the Baptist Church and Dyffryn House as locations. We also need more musicians, venues, rap artists and artists in all fields to help to complete the piece. Follow #CardiffVexations on social media to see more!
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