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Peter Hill returns to the music for which he’s best known. He collaborated with Messiaen during 1986-91, when recording the complete piano works. But in 2012, he discovered among the composer’s papers an almost- complete, previously unknown piano piece from 1961, La Fauvette Passerinette (Subalpine Warbler). Hill added missing dynamics on the basis of Messiaen’s birdsong notebooks; this recording places the piece with others by the composer, and by those he influenced, including Stockhausen, Takemitsu, Murail and George Benjamin.

The programme includes Le traquet stapazin from Catalogue d’oiseaux from 1956-8, and we hear how its French Impressionist elements have disappeared in the more austere soundworld of La Fauvette Passerinette – which anticipates the more abstract 1970s piano music, and the birdsong style’s apotheosis in the opera Saint Francoise d’Assise. However, the pieces’ natural inspiration – the birdsongs themselves – is so dominant, it seems to impose a barrier to appreciating their real musical art, a barrier that Hill’s immense advocacy has done so much to counter.

Tristan Murail’s Cloches d’adieu, et un sourire (1992) is a moving requiem to Messiaen, that refers to early and late pieces by him. Dutilleux’s haunting D’ombre et de silence (1973), with shared roots in Ravel, reminds us of a less radical but equally personal voice in modern French composition. Peter Hill has been praised for his poetic distillation of Messiaen’s style, but his incisive analytic intelligence is also exhibited through this excellent release.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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