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Birtwistle, Enescu, Knussen & Messiaen: Visions

Birtwistle, Enescu, Knussen & Messiaen: Visions

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Visions offers Tamara Stefanovich and Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s return to Pentatone, presenting a programme revolving around Messiaen’s intoxicating Visions de l‘amen for two pianos. This centrepiece is surrounded by Enescu’s Carillon nocturne, Knussen’s Prayer Bell Sketch and Clock IV from Birtwistle’s Harrison’s Clocks. The works performed all share a fascination for the sound of bells, and Stefanovich and Aimard invite the listener on a mesmerizing acoustic journey. Tamara Stefanovich is captivating audiences worldwide with a broad repertoire ranging from Bach to contemporary composers, and made her Pentatone debut with the critically-acclaimed album Influences (2019). Widely acclaimed as a key figure in the music of our time and as a uniquely significant interpreter of piano repertoire from every age, Pierre-Laurent Aimard enjoys an internationally celebrated career. His exclusive engagement to Pentatone has led to a complete recording of Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux (2018) and a recording of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and Eroica Variations (2021).


Here’s a disc for pianophiles, those with a penchant for the mystical, and campanologists alike. As the song has it, “A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it”, and here bells toll, peal, chime, carillon and knell throughout a cleverly programmed, acutely played recital by Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich that dazzles with its poetry, intensity and clarity.

The disc’s title, Visions, alludes to the hallucinogenic effect of Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen in which bells sound with an intoxicating allure that speaks of a sense of otherness rooted in self-interrogating interiority. In its searching dialogue between two pianos surface religiosity serves as the portal to something altogether more transcendental and intimate.

Aimard’s familiarity with the work is unimpeachable, having played it, he says, “from the age of 15, turned the pages when Yvonne Loriod and Messiaen performed it, worked on it with him, and played it countless times”. More recently, it has been a part of his concert appearances with Stefanovich, and such accrued acquaintanceship pays enormous dividends here.

With due seriousness and gravity, Aimard assumes the imposing first piano role originally inhabited by Messiaen himself, Stefanovich voicing the narcotic zeal and fantasy of the second piano part, written for and first performed by Loriod. The result, an exercise in atomised contrasts, is something special.

Aimard carries the disc’s adroit finale, Harrison Birtwistle’s Clock IV (from Harrison’s Clocks) inspired by Dava Sobel’s book Longitude about the race to invent a marine chronometer. One of the composer’s “chiming pieces”, it discreetly echoes Messiaen even as its prodigious chord clusters and dramatic dynamic contrasts belong self-evidently to him alone. Aimard dispatches it with due declamatory virtuosity.

Nigel Simeone provides detailed, informative, and accessible notes, the recorded sound, in Stefaniensaal, Congress Graz, Austria as exemplary as you would expect of Pentatone.

-- Limelight

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    • UPC/Barcode: 827949095764
    • Item Number: PTC5186957