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Review: Natalie Raybould & Dominic Saunders - Messiaen's Harawi @ Cardiff Uni Concert Hall

Posted by Weeping Tudor from Cardiff - Published on 30/03/2015 at 15:12
0 comments » - Tagged as Culture, Environment, Festivals, Music, People, Topical, Travel

Natalie Raybould & Dominic Saunders, with speakers Jane Manning & Caroline Rae

Cardiff University Concert Hall

Tuesday 24th March 2015

With vivid memories of Peter Hill and Benjamin Frith's staggering rendition of Messiaen's Visions de l'Amen from the month prior, this City of Light festival hasn't done with the great French composer just yet.

In an evening all about Harawi, Jane Manning and Caroline Rae gave us much insight into the piece and its origins. Inspired by the Tristan and Isolde story, it utilises myth from Peru in the same vein as love-death, conservation of the truest romance, only pronounced by mortality. Manning (who has sang the work several times) spoke of its "outstanding" and "exciting" qualities. She went on to say of how the work "makes you sing properly" and the "great fun" it is for a soprano to wrestle with. I twitched with excitement in the knowledge that we would hear the work shortly.

Using some of the native Peruvian language of Quechua and bird song (one work that doesn't say which precise birds are transcribed), this first part of his Tristan trilogy is an earthy and raw musical experience. Lasting an hour, the soprano and pianist embark on an interstellar journey, by the way of onomatopoeia, monkeys, dances, inspiration from painter Roland Penrose, chants and all the while maintaining a rich, eloquent French musical language.

The magical, cosmic delights of Harawi were here sung by Natalie Raybould. In a striking interpretation of the score, just watching her was enough to be gripped. How her mouth quivered and face turned to many whipping smiles and smirks and frowning, as she positioned her body in the right stance for her delivery.

It's heavy-going for a singer, in what must be one of the most demanding song cycles ever written (perhaps one of the best?). The surrealist and, at times, ridiculous nature of the words/syllables make for amusing and hearty listening (I knew Raybould's help in the penultimate movement was coming but it still made me jump). Dominic Saunders' piano role was having a deep understanding of the score. No half-measure for pianists with Messiaen, and your playing has to prove this. Saunders' execution was as good as other recent interpretations I have heard. 

Tears formed in my eyes towards the end as the two lovers of the story are united in death, transforming into twinkling stars in the night's sky. Through the manic and hair-raising moments, the ending notes are a blissfully, hushed lamentation.

A song cycle of great gusto in its invigorating and spellbinding presentation.

Rating: 5 stars

The City of Light: Paris - 1900-1950 festival concludes in Cardiff on Friday 27th March, with Cardiff University Symphony Orchestra, featuring Debussy world premiers and works by Ravel and Jolivet.

The Philharmonia Orchestra performs Messiaen's Turangal'la-Symphonie at the Royal Festival Hall (along with Debussy's Syrinx and La damoiselle elue) on Thursday 28th May 2015 and also at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris on Wednesday 28th May 2015.

Related Articles:

Related Podcast: Cultural Recap of 2014 (Review of Turangalila-Symphonie)

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Photo Credits: Caroline Rae via Twitter

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