Olivier Messiaen Catalogue d’ Oiseaux Pierre-Laurent AimardOlivier Messiaen

Catalogue d’Oiseaux

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano

Pentatone, 2018

This is the first recording that internationally acclaimed pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard releases for Pentatone, with which he signed in 2017. He will record some key works from his repertoire, which is particularly committed to contemporary music, but that covers three centuries. For his first album, Aimard decided to record Messiaen’s complete Catalogue d’Oiseaux, a collection of thirteen pieces composed between 1956 and 1958 with the purpose to represent the birds «accompanied» (in the composer’s words) «in the harmonic and rhythmic material by the perfumes and colours of the landscape in which the bird lives».

Catalogue d’ Oiseaux: the Performance

Being familiar with Messiaen’s music from very early in his career, pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard records here his first complete Catalogue d’Oiseaux. This is one of the richest and of the most vibrant renditions that Messiaen’s Catalogue can have. The technical skills and brilliance are at the service of music and the layers of articulation are finely executed. The Oiseaux preserve all their varied timbral qualities that (as Messiaen said) «imitate the timbre of each bird». Aimard seems to take delight in highlighting them. The shades he finds alternate between the darkest to the lightest with all the gradations that is possible to imagine and that leads to various mixtures of colours. In addition, Aimard always takes his time and pauses and silences between the notes are as important and significant than the sounds, creating some suggestive effects.

In this way, the Oiseaux become many precise and vivid pictures. The representation seems sometimes accurate in an almost scientific way, some others it gives prominence to the wonder, as in the case of Le merle bleu.

This performance of the Oiseaux tends to the exactitude that Messiaen wished for his work. Aimard achieves it through rigour and soberness so that, even though some irony and other feelings emerge from time to time (as in Le traquet stapazin), it is fastidiousness and absorption with their usually well-balanced sparkle that prevail.

Furthermore, the dynamics are used meticulously and contribute to the charm of this performance. Apart from any other piece, they acquire special importance in La rousserolle effarvatte with its many twists and technical demands.