Olivier Messiaen’s monumental work Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jésus (Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus) surely ranks amongst the “greats” of the piano repertoire, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas in terms of its scale, variety and pianistic challenges. It is one of the most ground-breaking works in 20th-century piano music, a work which has accrued iconic status and deep respect. It combines richly-hued romanticism and the spare modernism that influenced Messiaen’s pupil, Pierre Boulez, and reveals many of Messiaen’s preoccupations and interests – birdsong, eastern rhythms and instruments, cosmology, religious iconography and his own deeply-held Catholic faith.
French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard enjoys the special distinction of having known Messiaen personally, and he studied with Yvonne Loriod (who premiered the work in March 1945 and who became the composer’s second wife in 1961). Aimard has a long-standing and highly-respected relationship with Messiaen’s piano music and it remains a core part of his repertoire. He is also a champion of modern and contemporary piano repertoire, and as a result he brings to this music a special understanding of Messiaen’s unique approach to pitch, rhythm, sonority and attack.