2-disc set. 115 minutes.
As we look back and begin to assess with a more distanced eye the musical achievements of the 20th century, 1944's Vingt Regards should stand as one of the great works written for solo piano. (Of course, if you don't like the composer's sensibility to begin with--"too much butterscotch and religion," as one of my friends says--then you'll most likely disagree with me.) In the right hands, Messiaen's writing can astonish with its breadth and color, but it is difficult to find an interpreter who can resist the tendency of most pianists to over-sentimentalize the music.
French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard is an ideal match for the Vingt Regards. He was a longtime student of Messiaen's wife, Yvonne Loriod, whose 1973 recording of this music for Erato, overseen by the composer, still provides its benchmark rendition. Aimard himself was quite close to Messiaen both professionally and personally, and Teldec underscores that relationship by including in the booklet a picture of Aimard, his wife, their son Marc-Antoine, and the composer, who was the child's godfather. (Is the label trying to validate Aimard's interpretation by proving just how close they were? How subtle!)
No matter. Aimard doesn't need to go to such lengths to prove his worth, as his playing speaks volumes. His tone is astringent, an excellent brace against the dangers of saccharine overload that would tempt a lesser player. He rigorously structures his playing, never allowing any of the 20 movements to sprawl out of control, until he finishes with a splendid Regard de l'Église d'Amour. The recording's depth and focus helps highlight the contours of Aimard's pianism. Note to the butterscotch brigade: If any recording of Messiaen could convert you, this would be it. --Anastasia Tsioulcas, ClassicsToday.com