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Olivier Messiaen: Vingt Regards Sur L'enfant Jesus

Ian Pace

14 June 2008

It was absolutely amazing. I have, literally, never heard anything like that. I'm not really a listener to solo piano music and wasn't sure that going to a two-hour concert of what I knew would probably be pretty challenging music was really the right thing. I honestly thought there was a good chance I would hate the whole experience. But I'm glad I was talked into it, because it was just amazing.

I have never sat so close to an unamplified piano before, and two things struck me. First is the incredible power that comes out of the instrument. Second is the unbelieveable amount of sustain it has. I had no idea. You can't appreciate that in a recording. It reverberates forever. Astonishing.

Ian Pace is the most impressive performer I have ever seen live. And I'm not saying that just because he's probably reading this! I don't know how anybody can play like that, with that amount of energy and concentration, for that much time. I was exhausted by the end of it!

One minor quibble: there was a brief interval in the middle, and I think that was a bad idea. (I know it wasn't Ian's idea, and his preference would be to play the work in a single sitting.) After an hour it's true that the strain of sitting still for so long was taking its toll, but, despite the discomfort, I would have sat for the second hour without a break if necessary. I felt that the interval broke my feeling of immersion in the music and it was difficult to refocus my concentration after it.

As for saying anything about the music... I'm not even going to try. I don't think it's describable. It just needs to be listened to. And not on a CD—it needs to be listened to live, in the right setting, with a performer like Ian Pace. And I'm really glad I was convinced to do so.

Olivier Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time

Ossian Ensemble

14 June 2008

I also enjoyed the Ossian Ensemble performing Quartet for the End of Time in the same venue earlier in the day. Since first hearing the Quartet only a year or so ago I have been mesmerised by it and desperate to hear a live performance, and now I finally have and I was not at all disappointed. Sitting five feet away from the performers gives the music an intensity I have never felt while listening to the CD, and the sound you get from real instruments is infinitely better than on a recording. At the end, performers and audience sat in silence for several long seconds when all you could hear was a sort of deep sigh, before the applause finally broke out.

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