Seattle Symphony Orchestra: Messiaen’s ‘Poemes pour Mi’ and ‘3 Petite liturgies de la Presence Divine’

Poemes pour Mi is the better of the two performances on Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s latest recording, released on 18 August 2017.

Written originally for piano and soprano and scored for orchestra and voice the following year, Poemes are exuberant and colourful settings of Messiaen’s own poetry exploring marital love, the experience of which was in no doubt informed by his marriage to violinist and composer Claire Delbos in June 1932.

That Delbos would go on to suffer multiple miscarriages and succumb to memory loss and live her life in a mental insitution after an operation, makes Poemes pour Mi a bittersweet listen.

In the Seattle Symphony recording, conductor Ludovic Morlot is efficient with his speeds, taking things at a swift pace from the start of the first song. In this way, Morlot’s work is reminiscent of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and Renee Fleming’s interpretation.

Where Morlot’s interpretation differs is the way in which the recording puts voice, wind, and percussion front and centre, casting the strings further back in the mix. This gives Seattle’s resulting spartan sound a hungrier more responsive feel. I think it works too.

In comparison, Boulez’s lusher sound generated by Cleveland Orchestra string section on the Deutsche Grammophon release from 1997, feels a lot heavier – in places a slightly more cumbersome. My preference is for the more agile sound Seattle have come up with.

That strategy pays off to a certain extent in the other work in the release – 3 Petite liturgies de la Presence Divine. There is a shimmering quality to the sound in places which gives this three movement vocal work an eerily alluring feel to it.

At times however there are places where the use of a boys choir over the women’s voices originally scored by Messiaen let’s the recording down a bit. In the high registers, usually at the ends of phrases, the intonation wavers a little.

Download details available via the Seattle Symphony Orchestra website.


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