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4 play Messiaen magnificently

SHARE 4 play Messiaen magnificently

NOVA CHAMBER MUSIC SERIES, Utah Museum of Fine Arts Auditorium, Sunday

Olivier Messiaen's impact on music is enormous. The link between impressionists Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel and today, Messiaen has served as the inspiration for scores of composers whom he taught or who were influenced by him.

A prolific composer in every genre, Messiaen, who died in 1992 at the age of 84, left a tremendous legacy. Yet surprisingly, his music today goes largely unnoticed and unplayed, not just here in Salt Lake City, but also around the country.

Why is that?

One reason is because he wrote works of great length and complexity. But underneath that lies music of infinite beauty and simplicity. You need to look beyond the surface of Messiaen's music to discover the key to unlocking its secrets. Once you have done that, you can get a solid grasp of what makes Messiaen's music unique.

There is no question that Messiaen created his own musical universe, one that is made up of many different elements and influences. Chief among those is his religiousness. Messiaen was a devout Catholic, and that aspect of his being informs everything he wrote. Yet Messiaen is not a composer of sacred music in the traditional sense. Rather, he finds the divine presence in everything around him.

Messiaen would have been 100 next year. In anticipation of the worldwide centennial celebration, Salt Lake City has taken the lead and is presenting a weeklong festival devoted to the great French composer. The festival got under way Sunday with NOVA and concludes Friday and Saturday with performances by the Utah Symphony of "Des canyons aux etoiles. ..." In between, there will be concerts featuring works for organ and piano, including the monumental "Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jesus," performed by Utah Symphony pianist Jason Hardink.

Sunday, Hardink was joined by symphony colleagues Joe Evans, violin, Noriko Kishi, cello, and Lee Livengood, clarinet, for a sublime reading of Messiaen's early "Quatuor pour la fin du Temps" ("Quartet for the End of Time").

The four musicians played magnificently. They brought insight and depth to their performance, which was intense, emotionally charged and wonderfully expressive. There was a luminescence to their playing that powerfully conveyed the deep spirituality of the work.

Livengood's playing was especially beautiful in the third movement for solo clarinet, "Abyss of the Birds," while Kishi and Evans captured the mystery and otherworldliness of "Praise to the Eternity of Jesus" and "Praise to the Immortality of Jesus," respectively. And Hardink's playing throughout was compelling and incisive. Evans and Kishi opened the concert with Ravel's stark Sonata for Violin and Cello, which they played with intense expression. The third movement in particular was notable for its heartfelt emotion and poignancy.

E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com