La Fauvette Passerinette: a Messiaen premiere, with birds, landscapes & homages

In 2012, leading pianist and Messiaen scholar Peter Hill made a remarkable discovery among the composer’s papers: several pages of tightly written manuscript from 1961, constituting a near-complete and hitherto unknown work for piano.

Hill was able to fill in some missing dynamics and articulations by consulting Messiaen’s birdsong notebooks, and gave the work’s first public performance in the autumn of 2013.<br> Here, then, he follows his acclaimed Bach recordings for Delphian with a return to the music in which he first made his reputation, setting this glittering addition to Messiaen’s piano output in the context both of the composer’s own earlier work and of music by the many younger composers on whom Messiaen was a profound influence – from Stockhausen and Takemitsu to George Benjamin, who like Hill himself worked closely with the composer in the years before his death.

"Hill places the new work within an exceptionally well-crafted recital in which Messiaen's music is a recurrent thread in a span of resonances, influences and affinities...Whether in Dutilleux or Peter Sculthorpe, Murail or Takemitsu, Hill's provides a masterclass in capturing a composer's idiom with warmth and humanity."

"Hill's realisation forms a rewarding substantial centrepiece to this outstanding recital disc. The whole point is to put Messiaen himself in a stimulating context...The appeal of the disc is greatly enhanced by the exceptional quality of the recording, with every facet of Hill's uncompromisingly extensive expressive range vividly captured."

"What a discovery! La Fauvette Passerinette is a stunning 11-minute piano solo — joyous, syncopated and virtuosic...It was rediscovered recently by Peter Hill, who sends its birdsong-based fantasies soaring fabulously on a fascinating disc that puts the French maître in the context of contemporaries...and pupils"

""La Fauvette Passerinette represents a path Messiaen never followed further...As Hill’s performance shows, however, it’s an utterly convincing and thrilling piece of piano writing – a fierce, sustained 11-minute study as rigorous as Messiaen’s piano works of the late 1940s...Altogether, it is a hugely rewarding and important disc."

"Hill has devised a fascinating sequence to contextualise this first recording of an 11-minute virtuoso piece he discovered in Messiaen’s posthumous papers...as performed here, [it] is bitingly fresh and chattery, plausibly ornithological."

"With a beautiful recorded balance equally capturing the subtle colours and drama of both the music and Peter Hill’s performances, this is both a piano recording of demonstration quality and a musical experience to treasure."

"this generously filled disc [is] a serious study for both concentrated and extended reading."

"he knows how to make a sound like bronze, like those pianists from before the first world war. There it is: you’re hooked…the depth of his sound, the kaleidoscope of attacks, the intelligence of the pedalling are unfailing."

"poetic, powerful and raptly concentrated performances"

Producer: Paul Baxter
Recording venue: Reid Concert Hall, University of Edinburgh
Recording dates: 23 March & 6 April 2014
Physical format: Jewel case
Number of discs: 1
Number of tracks: 16
Release date: 27 October 2014
Catalogue No: DCD34141
Total playing time: 1:18:55

Interview: Peter Hill on Messiaen

Journalist and Broadcaster Kate Molleson talks to Peter Hill about his unexpected discovery of a new Messiaen piano cycle

Peter Hill

            ‘A Messiaen premiere’: not the sort of statement you see on many new CD covers these days. For any performer or music historian, the prospect of unearthing a forgotten work by a great composer is tantalising enough. But when that work turns out to be a significant stepping-stone – the missing link that explains the composer’s subsequent creative evolution?

In 2012, the pianist and biographer Peter Hill happened upon a loose bundle of pages among Olivier Messiaen’s sketchbooks and soon realised he’d found a draft of an unpublished piece. The excitement didn’t stop there. The more Hill studied the scribbled pages and set them in context of when and where they were composed, the more he became convinced that this little piece was in fact the beginning of a whole new piano cycle – a sequel, perhaps, to Messiaen’s monumental Catalogue d’oiseaux.

"The release has already caused giddy ripples through the industry."

Two years later, recounting the story over a cup of coffee on a cold, crisp afternoon in London, Hill’s evident thrill about the whole business is easy to share. We meet around the corner from the music division of Faber, who are set to publish the score of La Fauvette Passerinette (The Subalpine Warbler) in the spring. Hill’s debut recording of the 11-minute piece was recently released on the Scottish label Delphian, set among other 20th century piano works by Ravel, Stockhausen, George Benjamin, Tristan Murail and Messiaen himself. The release has already caused giddy ripples through the industry.

So how did it all come about?

Kate Molleson

First published in The Herald on 10 December, 2014

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