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Review: Peter Hill & Benjamin Frith - Messiaen's Visions de l'Amen @ Cardiff Uni Concert Hall

Posted by Weeping Tudor from Cardiff - Published on 18/02/2015 at 12:36
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Peter Hill & Benjamin Frith

Cardiff University Concert Hall

Tuesday 17th February 2015

It's been some time since visiting Cardiff University's Concert Hall. The last time being Kenneth Hamilton on piano, who played Chopin and Alkan, a highly ambitious concert indeed.

Here, it was more piano music, only doubled. Peter Hill, leading expert on French composer, Olivier Messiaen, had discovered an unperformed work. In the archives, Hill stumbled upon La Fauvette Passerinette (Subalpine warbler)all the way back from 1961. With slight additions, Hill was able to piece the work together and make it suitable for concert performance. All the Messiaen hallmarks are here. The birdsong notations, the joyous disjointed nature and fevered piano playing. This was a Welsh premier and for me, an exciting Messiaen milestone.

Along with Benjamin Frith, he then played Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. In its original form (it would later be orchestrated for the infamous 1913 premier in Paris), it loses elements of the harmonic and rhythmic language at which a huge orchestra can excel (I recall a two-piano Rite [Of Spring] at the Snape Maltings that was played very well by Tamara Stefanovich and Nenad Lecic). But seeing these two sharing a single piano, you can really appreciate their musicianship, as their hands touched, darted and hammered over the keys. The Rite is still worth hearing in piano form, just for the pianistic bravado and fury.

Frith then got a piano all to himself for Messiaen's Visions de l'Amen. This work, for two pianos, is inspired by Yvonne Loriod, Messiaen's pupil and later wife. With her mesmerising piano skills, he could almost write anything for her. Messiaen would be the accompanying piano role, letting Loriod be the focal point (he wrote most of his piano music for her). Here Hill and Frith painted astounding colours of extremely religious music-making. With sounds of bells, bird song, the stars and more, this intensive work makes for remarkable listening. The choppy, effervescent sound world is instantly recognisable as Messiaen, and is unforgettable. 

A concert teetering on the brink of perfection.

Rating: 10/10

The City of Light: Paris - 1900-1950 festival continues until Friday 27th March at Cardiff University Concert Hall. Highlights include Messiaen's Harawi, an Explore Day, the Philarmonia Orchestra [see all Sprout articles here] and Debussy world premiers. 

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Related Podcast: Cultural Recap of 2014: (Review of Turangal's la-Symphonie)

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