May 1, 2009
This disc is unusual on three counts. First, it presents music by Messiaen that is little known and rarely recorded. Second, all this music dates from his earliest period, the 1930s. And third, we are given performances not by a defective vocalist who is a “specialist” in modern music, but rather by a highly gifted and well-respected Baroque specialist.
The most fascinating work on this CD, for me, is La mort du nombre, a nine-minute cantata for soprano, tenor, violin, and piano. More than any piece I’ve heard by Messiaen, it owes a heavy musical debt to Debussy and, in some respects, Wagner, particularly in the final piece where the soprano and violin ascend to a sort of “trembling ecstasy.” Here, LeBlanc’s performance is indeed emotionally involved, and appropriately so. Tenor Lawrence Wiliford, like LeBlanc, has a beautiful timbre and is, in fact, a more intense interpreter. I’d love to hear him sing Pelléas.
I wasn’t personally enamored of the Chants de terre et de ciel, perhaps because as the beginning of Messiaen’s more mystical period the music seemed to me more experimental and less focused. Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear this transitional work in context, realizing that it was a bridge to the Quartet for the End of Time. (...)
this is a disc of high and unusual musical interest, highly recommended.
Lynn René Bayley - Fanfare Magazine
February 1, 2009
As the Messiean centennial was winding down, little from the recordings really stood out, except reissues. From the first five seconds of listening to this, however, I knew I was on to something special. Quebecois soprano Suzie LeBlanc is renowned for her strenghts in 17th- and 18th-century forays into her Acadian roots. But her crystal-clear, true soprano works equally well here in early vocal music by Messiaen. LeBlanc is magical in capturing the mystical, sensual traits of this music, which in her hands shows Messiaen as the continuation of the line of French mélodies by Fauré, Duparc and Debussy. Tenor Lawrence Wiliford, featured on one track, continues to show his versatility-from comic opera clown to serious recitalist. Violonist Laura Andriani, first violin of Quatuor Alcan, beautifully matches the clear, almost vibrato-less sounds of LeBlanc and Wiliford. And pianist Robert Kortgaard, in there busy, rich piano parts, again proves he is one of Canada's finest piano partners-sensitive, nuanced, supportive and complementary.
Rick Phillips - Opera Canada
Le Monde de la musique
January 1, 2009
L'oeuvre vocale de Messiaen est loin d'être unitaire et ne peut convenir à une unique interprète. Si les debussystes Trois mélodies et la singulière cantate La Mort du Nombre (1930) s'adressent à un soprano léger, les Chants de Terre et de Ciel (1938) sont un écho au Tristan wagnérien et, comme les deux autres grands cycles vocaux de Messiaen - Poème pour Mi (1936) et Harawi (1945) - s'adressent à une grande voix. Ces trois recueils furent composés à l'intention de Marcelle Bunlet, soprano wagnérienne française décrite par Darius Milhaud comme "une voix de volcan anthropophage".
Dotée d'un timbre clair et d'une bonne énonciation, la soprano québécoise Suzie Leblanc est une interprète avisée du premier Messiaen, là où la ligne vocale possède la ductilité de l'onde Martenot, la linéarité suraiguë du violon ou des célestes jeux de l'orgue. À l'opposé, elle reste en deçà de la vocalité quasi orchestrale des Chants de Terre et de Ciel. Le pianiste Robert Kortgaard et le ténor léger Lawrence Williford lui apporte un précieux concours.
Frank Langlois - Le Monde de la musique
BBC Music Magazine
December 1, 2008
This lovely collection of works from the 1930s focuses on the voice, primarly soprano Suzie LeBlanc in notably the composer's second song cycle, Chants de terre et de ciel, written in part for Messiaen's first wife, Claire Delbos. (...) LeBlanc has a strong pedigree in Baroque repertoire, and her clear, fresh voice is especially effective in the Trois mélodies and as the pure 'first soul' in La Mort du nombre, Lawrence Wiliford providing a robust foil.
Chrisopher Dingle - BBC Music Magazine
November 7, 2008
This is a remarkable release of early works by Olivier Messiaen featuring the outstanding Acadian singer Suzie LeBlanc. Principally know for her crystalline renditions of baroque repertoire, this ATMA release, Chants de terre et de ciel, comes a bit of a surprise. Featuring rarely heard works by the iconic French composer whose centenary is celebrated this year, this CD serves to bridge Messiaen's early influences - with hints of Wagner and definite traces of Massenet and Debussy - and his more familiar mature style of the post-war years. But LeBlanc's purity of tone is very well suited to this repertoire. The disc includes two song cycles, one vocalise, a cantata for tenor, soprano, violin and piano - the only work in wich Messiaen utilized a solo male voice (lawrence Wiliford here) until the opera Saint-François d'Assise completed half a century later - and the more familiar Theme and Variations for violin and piano. Composed in 1930 the first song cycle, Trois Mélodies, pays tribute to Messiaen's mother, poet Cécile Sauvage who had died of turberculosis three years previously, with a setting of her Le Sourire book-ended by two poems by Messiaen himself. The second, Chants de terre et de ciel (Songs of Earth and Heaven) also on texts by the composer, is a celebration of the happy years of Messiaen's life with his first wife Claire Delbos and the birth of their son Pascal before Delcos' illness ans eventual descent into dementia. Delbos was an accomplished violinist and the Theme and Variations (performed by Laura Andriani and Robert Kortgaard who is the pianist throughout this disc) was composed as a wedding present for Messiaen's bride in 1932. The Vocalise for soprano and piano was composed three years later. This exceptional release provides valuable insight into Messiaen's early years while showing another side of this country's most beloved singers. It is a joy to hear.
La Scena Musicale
November 1, 2008
As musicians around the world celebrate Olivier Messiaen's centenary birthday with an abundance of concerts and recordings, here we have a disc that showcases some of his lesser-known early works. Composed in the first few years of his marriage to violonist Claire Delbos, his works reflect a tine of uncomplicated happiness before her eventual psychological decline. It is interesting to hear a different side of Messiaen; he is often associated with his later experiences as a prisoner of war in Germany and his innovative compositional techniques. This disc shows a young Messiaen growing into his own voice with works rooted in impressionism and traditional French lyrism, recalling such composers as Debussy and Poulenc. Although she specializes in 17th and 18th century repertoire, Canadian soprano Suzie LeBlanc inhabits these difficult works with ease, imbuing the lyrics with pure and exquisite tone. Seldom recorded, the dramatic cantata La Mort du nombre is one of the most interesting works on this disc, ranging from lyrical to dramatic. Written for piano, violin, soprano and tenor, the piece explores the theme of love between man and woman, human and god with lyrics written by Messiaen himself. He weaves a rich tonal tapestry, at times evoking Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande. Tenor Lawrence Wiliford lends a compelling voice, flowingly expressive with a large dramatic capacity. The young composer's originality later blossomed into extraordinary vision.
Hannah Rahimi - La Scena Musicale
October 18, 2008
Le CD Atma Chants de terre et de ciel de Messiaen avec Suzie LeBlanc est intéressant. Il offre une perspective -- des Trois Mélodies de 1930 aux Chants des années 1937-38 -- des années 30, où se dessine le style du compositeur. En complément, deux oeuvres pour violon et piano et La Mort du nombre, courte et rare cantate avec ténor (Lawrence Wiliford) et violon. La voix de Suzie LeBlanc convient bien à l'ambitus expressif et stylistique de ce bel apport à l'année Messiaen.
Christophe Huss - Le Devoir
Le Journal de Montréal
October 10, 2008
La soprano montréalaise Suzie LeBlanc célèbre l'univers du compositeur Olivier Messiaen. Dans un registre qui nous fait penser à La Mer jolie (ATMA), elle appose sa magnifique voix cristalline à une série de mélodies et de poèmes qui feront fondre les plus endurcis! De la haute voltige, classique et littéraire.
Christophe Rodriguez - Le Journal de Montréal
October 9, 2008
La soprano Suzie LeBlanc nous offre un très beau recueil d'oeuvres de jeunesse d'Olivier Messiaen, dont on célèbre cette année le centenaire. Des musiques composées entre 1930 et 1938, qui gardent la saveur impressionniste du tournant du siècle, mais dont certains passages devaient commencer à faire grincer des oreilles dans les salons. Mais ne craignez rien, la voix est exquise, le pianiste Robert Kortgaard est toujours là où il faut, et la violoniste Laura Andriani, qui partage deux instrumentales avec lui, tirerait des larmes à une chaise. On a même la seule pièce de Messiaen comportant une partie de ténor (Lawrence Wiliford) et des notes de Jean Boivin.
Réjean Beaucage - Voir
The New Jersey Star Ledger
October 8, 2008
The records marking the centenary of French modernist Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) have been disappointingly thin, being mostly multiple versions of his "Quartet for the End of Time." So, this thoughtfully conceived, beautifully realized recital disc does a great service. Featuring French-Canadian soprano Suzie LeBlanc, the program highlights the songwriting of the young Messiaen, when he was enraptured with his first, short-lived wife and under the spell of Debussy.
There is an ecstatic quality to the cycles "Trois Melodies" and "Chants de Terre et de Ciel" (Songs of the Earth and Sky), all swooning lyricism and moonlit atmosphere. These are deeply French, high-art songs, crafted like jewels. But they also have an effortless naturalism, especially with a singer like LeBlanc. The soprano, in her mid-40s, has specialized in Baroque repertoire, but she has also explored the folk tunes of her Acadian heritage. Her tone is silvery, clear and floating (with the barest vibrato), her phrasing intimate like she's singing just for you. These qualities are ideal, as Messiaen's songs are about romantic faith and spiritual love.
The piano parts are rich, with Messiaen giving impressionistic harmony a modernist update. The composer's first wife was a violinist, and he wrote several pieces for her, including the ravishingly lyrical "Vocalise" for violin and piano, played lovingly here by Laura Andriani. Also included is the melodious "Theme et Variations" for violin and piano, with Andriani taking it at flowing pace while managing the most poetic close.
The rarity here is "La Mort du Nombre," a dramatic mini-cantata for soprano, tenor, violin and piano by the 21-year-old Messiaen that shows the influence of Wagner's love music through the prism of Debussy's "Pelleas et Melisande." Lawrence Wiliford may sound a bit callow next to LeBlanc, but they entwine intensely enough, the piece ending with shimmering, love-struck piano.
Linda A. Fowler - The Star Ledger
The Toronto Star
October 7, 2008
The Acadian soprano unleashed her almost ethereal voice and artistry on some of this program at the Sharon Temple this summer. The songs are just as mesmerizing on disc, accompanied with exceptional grace by Robert Kortgaard on piano. Toronto lyric tenor Lawrence Wiliford makes a welcome cameo, as does violinist Laura Andriani.
John Terauds - The Toronto Star
The Globe and Mail
October 7, 2008
Olivier Messiaen tapped into the mystical, the erotic and the ecstatic in a way a few other composers have, with two notable exceptions perhaps -the medieval abbess Hildegard of Bingen and 17th-century composer Claudio Monteverdi. Perhaps that's why early-music soprano Suzie LeBlanc seems so right, even if she's sometimes out of her comfort zone, in both tessitura and style, for this compelling repertoire. One can imagine lusher, more sensual interpretations, but none likely to maintain an equivalent balance of purity, voluptuousness, fragility and clarity.
Elissa Poole - The Globe and Mail