Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre consisted of early works by Olivier Messiaen written for his wife, the violinist and composer Claire Delbos. The first piece was the Theme et variations for violin and piano of 1932. Like much of Messiaen’s music this piece represents two contrasting moods, likely rooted in Messiaen’s Catholicism. It’s either deeply meditative or ecstatic, almost manically so, with not much in between. It’s also very hard to play! Here it was presented with great skill and conviction by violinist Kerry DuWors and pianist Liz Upchurch.
The two books of the Poèmes pour Mi (Mi being Messiaen’s pet name for his wife) are similar in mood and are settings for piano and soprano of texts by Messiaen himself. The first book consists of four poems. The first and last are extremely intense placing great demands on singer and pianist while the middle two are quietly meditative, creating their own, rather different demands. Aviva Fortunata sang them with great commitment and near perfect diction; no mean feat with such demanding music. She was intensely physical in the bookend movements, using her full voice to great effect, especially in the ecstatic closing monosyllables of Épouvante. But she also throttled back beautifully in the middle movements. It was really quite impressive. Brilliant playing too from Jennifer Szeto at the piano.
The second book was taken by Karine Boucher, again with Jennifer Szeto. She managed a similar blend of intensity and subtlety pretty much matching Aviva for power and clarity and sounding very lyrical where needed. I was particularly impressed with her interpretation of the final, almost manic, Prière exaucée; an extremely demanding piece.
I’ve been a Messiaen fan for a very long time so I was really delighted to hear some little performed works played and sung with such skill and conviction.