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William R. Braun
Opera News, April 2010

Harawi, Messiaen's longest work for solo voice, might fairly be described as an hour-long piano suite with major contributions from the soprano. This new version is blessed with a pianist, Kristoffer Hyldig, who provides a technically impeccable and emotionally generous partnership for soprano Hetna Regitze Bruun. Hyldig commands both ends of the great mood swings Messiaen wrote into the piece, clarity of birdsong on the one hand and washes of huge, perfumed sonic clouds on the other. He doesn't clatter in the busy music unless Messiaen wants him to. He also, in tandem with Bruun, manages to give the illusion that the music is taking unlimited time, even though the duo is maintaining a continuity underneath, as in "Amour oiseau d'étoile," one of Messiaen's stopped-time inventions, and "L'amour de Piroutcha."

The experience of listening to Bruun's voice is stimulating. She will never be mistaken for Jessye Norman. But in many ways — the liquid French diction, the throaty but resonant low register, like a reed stop on an organ, the soprano coloring of a voice that does not sit especially high — she is eerily reminiscent of Norman. She does implacability, as in "Montagnes," extremely well. Most important for these songs and, again, Norman-like, she combines considerable steadiness with considerable power when needed. There is a dark element to her tone that is inbred, never lifting, but she can still be biting in the guttural Andean syllables of Messiaen's own text. (If only Leontyne Price had taken up these songs instead of Joseph Marx's!) Naxos does not provide texts or translations, but the French is rudimentary.

Messiaen's Trois Mélodies of 1930 have had more circulation on records than Harawi (the version by Frederica von Stade and Martin Katz is worth seeking out), but Bruun and Hyldig offer a fine one here. He gets more color from pedaling and voicing than many pianists do, and as a team these artists offer a flexible, billowing "Pourquoi?" that nonetheless never breaks down between phrases.




Peter Quantrill
Gramophone, April 2010

An impressive debut for a soprano who lets Messiaen’s music do the talking

The central panel of Messiaen’s “Tristan” trilogy is also the most direct translation of its source, which is saying something given the violent and surreal imagery of the composer’s poetry. But we are nearer to “O sink hernieder” than would at first appear, for the cycle is grander and more public in utterance than its genre would generally suggest or even be thought to permit, conceived as it was for Toscanini’s Kundry at Bayreuth, Marcelle Bunlet, and the first thing to be said about Danish soprano Hetna Regitza Bruun is that she comes far closer to Messiaen’s requested grand soprano dramatique than most of her rivals on record. Her chest voice comes into its own in crucial songs such as No 4, “Doundou tchil”, where she is convincingly aggressive: Rachel Yakar (Erato) and several others sound pretty or tentative by comparison.

Youthfulness is also a rare asset—this is her first recording—in a cycle that goes to appropriate extremes to portray the longing for extinction over the unbearable pain of a love beyond distraction. “I think I really prefer things which make me afraid,” once said the boy Olivier to his mother, and a strong sense of that fascination/repulsion is evident in the whirling nightmare of No 6, “Repetition planetaire”, but also in the long fortissimo lines of No 7, “Adieu”, and the cycle’s true final song, No 12, which Bruun wisely takes as fast as breath allows rather than as the metronome dictates, before she shows, in the cycle’s fading memories of love, that she can sing quietly, too. Messiaen’s lines expose the occasional lack of agility in a large voice but she compensates for this with excellent French that allows the music to do the talking, as Messiaen himself does in a piece written at a most painful time in his life.

Naxos’s recording equally reveals that Kristoffer Hyldig is a fine new Messiaen pianist.



Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, March 2010

An impressive debut for a soprano who lets Messiaen’s music do the talking

The central panel of Messiaen’s “Tristan” trilogy is also the most direct translation of its source, which is saying something given the violent and surreal imagery of the composer’s poetry. But we are nearer to “O sink hernieder” than would at first appear, for the cycle is grander and more public in utterance than its genre would generally suggest or even be thought to permit, conceived as it was for Toscanini’s Kundry at Bayreuth, Marcelle Bunlet, and the first thing to be said about Danish soprano Hetna Regitza Bruun is that she comes far closer to Messiaen’s requested grand soprano dramatique than most of her rivals on record. Her chest voice comes into its own in crucial songs such as No 4, “Doundou tchil”, where she is convincingly aggressive: Rachel Yakar (Erato) and several others sound pretty or tentative by comparison.

Youthfulness is also a rare asset—this is her first recording—in a cycle that goes to appropriate extremes to portray the longing for extinction over the unbearable pain of a love beyond distraction. “I think I really prefer things which make me afraid,” once said the boy Olivier to his mother, and a strong sense of that fascination/repulsion is evident in the whirling nightmare of No 6, “Repetition planetaire”, but also in the long fortissimo lines of No 7, “Adieu”, and the cycle’s true final song, No 12, which Bruun wisely takes as fast as breath allows rather than as the metronome dictates, before she shows, in the cycle’s fading memories of love, that she can sing quietly, too. Messiaen’s lines expose the occasional lack of agility in a large voice but she compensates for this with excellent French that allows the music to do the talking, as Messiaen himself does in a piece written at a most painful time in his life.

Naxos’s recording equally reveals that Kristoffer Hyldig is a fine new Messiaen pianist.




Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, March 2010

The Naxos roster of fine discs with vocal and other music by Olivier Messiaen is now graced with Harawi, one of the composer’s central works for voice, and the earlier Trois Mélodies, written when the composer was only 22.

Trois Mélodies is Messiaen’s musical response to the death of his mother three years previously, and is full of tender melodic expression and, aside from a passionate climax in the first Pourquoi? and the opening of the last La fiancée perdue, restrained tonalities and dynamics in the piano. The texts of the outer songs were written by Messiaen himself, and the central song is on a poem by his mother. In the booklet notes David McCleery points out the influence of Debussy in Messiaen’s earlier pieces. The pianistic techniques indeed resonate with a longer tradition of French song which also includes composers such as Fauré. Messiaen’s own compositional language is by no means fully formed here, but these beautiful songs are a perfect precursor to one of the most potent song-cycles of the 20th century.

My experiences with Harawi began on the 10th of May 1990, when I had the privilege of seeing it performed live at the IJsbreker in Amsterdam by Yumi Nara and Jay Gottlieb. Their recording appears on the Deutsche Grammophon ‘Complete Edition’, though I am not sure if this is the same version as that with the Accord label, on which I turned out to be less keen than the live performance. Hetna Regitze Bruun and Kristoffer Hyldig are a powerful duo, and Hyldig certainly pulls no punches. Bruun’s voice is recorded if anything with marginally less presence than the piano, but isn’t swamped even through some of the richer textures in the accompaniment, and the balance leaves room for her own dynamic range to reach its full potential without pushing the recording equipment beyond its limits. Listen to the demanding Adieu on track 10 to hear the soprano voice arc over the resonance of the piano in hair-raising style.

Harawi is a strange mixture of Messiaen’s extravagantly perfumed tonalities, and the Peruvian traditional music which has its visual expression in the striking cover to the published songs. The cycle is part of Messiaen’s ‘Tristan trilogy’, whose members further include the Turangalila-symphonie and Cinq Rechants. The vocal writing occasionally forays into regions unfamiliar to the generally romantic feel of these ‘songs of love and death’, with repetitious, almost instrumental statements such as the Doundou tchil of the fourth song, intended to represent the ankle-bells worn by Peruvian dancers. Messiaen doesn’t stray too far beyond his own more usual idiom however, and gems such as Amour oiseu d’étoile always bring us back to the composer’s familiar sublime magic. The composer’s own texts are not given in the booklet, but almost more usefully, Erik Christensen provides a description and narrative context for each song.

This is a mighty song-cycle, and requires commanding performances from the musicians. The duo in this recording not only rise to the challenge, but excel in communicating its extremes of content, from vast landscape and fauna to folkloristic legend, and more importantly of human emotion. Hetna Regitze Bruun’s range and expressive power is remarkable, and only the coloratura turns which occur in the Répétition planétaire seemed as if they might have been a little less stiff. Harawi is a confrontation, an assault on the senses—involving and rewarding in equal measure, but an exhausting labyrinth nonetheless. Naxos has brought us a world class recording of this seminal vocal repertoire, and at bargain price this is a release not to be missed by Messiaen collectors.



Joshua Meggitt
Cyclic Defrost, January 2010

Budget classical stalwarts Naxos continue their commendable survey of the music of Olivier Messiaen with a second disc of vocal work, this time the piano-accompanied Trois Melodies and Harawi. The former of 1930 is devoted to Messiaen’s mother who had died three years earlier, the second song of which is a setting to one of her poems. All three are typically unconventional, avoiding obvious evocations of loss and despair; rather, they’re restless celebrations of her spirit. Fuelled by lyrical piano runs and bright, soaring vocal lines, these works hint at the influence of Debussy but are well on their way to marking the composer’s own idiosyncratic voice.

1945’s Harawi was the first of Messiaen’s trilogy on earthly love, a joyous celebration of the same sexuality that Wagner explored, shrouded in guilt, in Tristan and Isolde. Dedicated to his then ailing wife Claire Delbos, this highly charged work employs a range of extended techniques, with large sections of the text in Peruvian, and nonsense phonemes of Messiaen’s own invention. Dynamics range from hushed whispers to explosive abandon, a difficult piece to pull off but one that Hetna Regitze Bruun (soprano), Kristoffer Hyldig (piano) really sink their teeth into.






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9:22:53 PM, 26 July 2014
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