Two-Piano Music of Messiaen and Debussy
- CDR 90000 119
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This is an inspired pairing 20th-century French works for duo piano composed during the century’s greatest conflicts: Olivier Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen (Visions of Amen) and Claude Debussy’s En blanc et noir (In Black and White). On other recordings, Visions de l’Amen typically appears alone or as part of an all-Messiaen program.
Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen, from 1943, was composed in wartime Paris during the German occupation. With an orchestral range of colors and immense dynamic range, it’s a monumental set of seven mystical meditations, often beginning subtly and building to an exhilarating intensity. From the first movement, “Amen of Creation” to the last, “Amen of Consummation,” the work is Messiaen’s musical metaphor of Life. Sonically powerful and emotionally demanding, it was composed with his unique imagination for sonority. Author and critic Paul Griffiths, in program notes for Carnegie Hall, wrote, “The two pianos together become a percussion orchestra, akin to the gamelans of Indonesia.”
Debussy’s En blanc et noir, from 1915, is the composer’s response to World War I. A landmark in the two-piano genre, the three-movement work is notoriously difficult to play. In the first movement, a vigorous waltz of clashing harmonies represents the “dance” of war, which is interrupted by military-sounding motifs. French and German musical themes battle for dominance in the second movement. The finale opens with a gentle D-minor theme reminiscent of Debussy’s Cello Sonata but becomes, in turns, sad and sinister, ending with a bitter dissonance that seems to suggest that the post-war years will be shadowed by memory.