Great French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays Messiaen’s monumental study of birdsong, Catalogue D’oiseaux | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Great French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays Messiaen’s monumental study of birdsong, Catalogue D’oiseaux 

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Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Roger Mastroianni

Composers of classical music have been inspired by birdsong for centuries—from Daquin to Beethoven through a bevy of contemporary figures such as Jonathan Harvey and Per Nørgård—but none has devoted as much energy and imagination to the process of translating trills and warbles into notated music as Olivier Messiaen. In the 1950s he created his epic Catalogue D’oiseaux, a book of seven works devoted to the sounds of a wide variety of avian creatures. Rather than simply imitating birdsong, though, Messiaen envisioned full portraits of nature scenes, whether pastoral tableaux or instrumental renderings of interspecies confrontations. Such music requires a sensitive touch, and French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard has proven to be one of Messiaen’s most adept interpreters—in part due to his early studies with Messiaen’s wife, pianist Yvonne Loriod, to whom the composer dedicated Catalogue D’oiseaux. On his searing 2008 album Hommage à Messiaen (Deutsche Grammophon), Aimard performed two pieces from the suite—“La Bouscarle” and “L’alouette Lulu,” inspired by the Cetti’s warbler and the woodlark, respectively—with evocative clarity and a refined sense of timbre to convey the colorings and movement of each subject. At Ravinia, he’ll play the complete work—all three hours of it. The pianist doesn’t take Catalogue D’oiseaux lightly: in 2016 he performed the entire suite outdoors at the Aldeburgh Festival in England, breaking the work into sections reflecting the habits of local wildlife. Indoors, Aimard should prove equally adept at bringing the sound of nature to the Martin Theater.   v

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