It was originally composed for piano and soprano; this is the version for orchestra first performed a dozen years later. It’s sung here by Anne Schwanewilms, known as an interpreter of Strauss and Wagner. She is obviously a dab hand at more intimate lieder, as these songs – very personal love songs from Messiaen to his wife, mixed with the religious motifs which formed such an idiosyncratic core in his work – are sung with great delicacy and sensitivity.
The religious motifs are heard even more strongly in the second offering on this disc, Les Offrandes Oubliées (The Forgotten Offerings) from 1930, Messiaen’s first published orchestral work. This still sounds contemporary in its harvesting of impressionistic dissonances and untamed musical emotions. On this evidence, Messiaen’s personal view of his religion bore heavily on pain and sacrifice and there is a great deal of very quiet solitary introspection too amidst the fury.The final work is a concentrated (9 min) offering to the memory of Mozart, which was commissioned for a premiere performance in 1991, the bicentenary of Mozart’s death. Beautiful mystical passages alternate with barbed sections based on birdsong. Although Messiaen said this piece was meant to evoke the happiness of Mozart’s music, here too there is a desperate solitude at odds with the intent.