Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Pierre-Laurent Aimard in Sydney

Pierre-Laurent Aimard is a special sort of pianist, one of those musicians who translate music with their whole body, a phenomenon you sometimes see with string players who stand to play but seldom with pianists, even the most active and virtuosic. Aimard played  Olivier Messiaen's Vingt Regardes sur l'Enfant-Jésus (Twenty Contemplations of the Christ Child) last night at the Angel Place concert hall.

It was an extraordinary concert that got a standing ovation, not so common for solo pianists.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays colours
Firstly to the music: I had heard the excellent pre-concert talk by David Garrett, who spoke about Messiaen's religiosity, his detailed knowledge of Roman Catholic music (he was Church organist for years) and his use of this knowledge in the music he wrote. I prepared to hear something I could relate to church music but if there were references to church liturgy and music (and I am sure there were many) I missed them completely. 

David Garrett - pre-concert talk

Instead I heard very modernist piano music, mostly discordant, very colourful, sometimes melodic and despite the title of the piece, only occasionally what I would call contemplative. I found it unexpected, riveting, mesmerising.

Which brings me to the player, who undoubtedly had much to do with how his audience received the music.  Aimard had been a friend of Messiaen and was a piano student of  Messiaen's wife Yvonne Loriod, herself a virtuoso pianist so he knows the world of Messiaen better than most. As I mentioned above, the music seemed to take over Aimerd physical presence as he played . In the quiet beginnings of this two hour marathon it was only the mouth you noticed, a clenching and un-clenching that made him look as if he was chewing gum. As the concert progressed and the twenty contemplations became raucous this involuntary response enveloped more of Aimard's body. It was as if electrical waves were being transmitted by the piano strings. At times he rose off the stool, sitting a few inches above it with twisted body looking like a contortionist trick. At other times he seemed about to swallow the piano whole, such was his concentration and determination. It was impossible not to be swept away by his playing and the music.

The music was played with brilliance but I still wondered why I found it so very disarming. Was it the religious significance Messiaen gave it that added something I couldn't define?

This evening I have been reading the notes from the concert booklet and discover that the piece was written for Loriod in a period when their love could not be acknowledged. His next major piece was inspired by Tristan and Isolde. Suddenly I feel the pieces clicking into place!

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