CD review: Messiaen’s Poemes pour Mi

First published in the Guardian on 28 September, 2017

Messiaen: Poemes pour Mi, Trois petites liturgies
Seattle Symphony/Morlot/Archibald (Seattle)

For a lesson in how to sing rapture without getting gushy or vague, try Jane Archibald’s performance of Olivier Messiaen’s ecstatic Poemes pour Mi. The title refers to the composer’s nickname for his first wife Claire Delbos (he called her ‘Mi’, French for the highest string on the violin) and the nine poems marvel at beauty, at nature, at God. Archibald delivers the cosmic vocal lines with stunning cool; she swirls and seduces but never overeggs it. Meanwhile conductor Ludovic Morlot does beautifully precise and evocative things with the Seattle Symphony, but I’m not convinced by his choice to use a boys’ choir in place of women’s voices in Trois petites liturgies de la presence divine. This is music composed in 1944; it is intensely, sensuously spiritual, and although the Northwest Boychoir sings superbly, their sound is too diffuse, too wan for Messiaen’s grand technicolours.