New Zealand Listener August 2012: "An ideal CD for pensive listeners, whether religious or not"; International Record Review 10/2012 "In a word, this is just the sort of insightful, intelligent and provocative offering we have come to expect from Fredrik Ullén, one of the more remarkable musicians before the public today. […] Warmly recommended.”
At first glance, the two composers represented on this disc may seem an unlikely couple: Franz Liszt the archetypal virtuoso-composer who crisscrossed 19th century Europe mesmerizing his audiences, and Olivier Messiaen who at the age of 22 was appointed organist at the Sainte-Trinité Church in Paris, remaining there for the rest of his life. In this imaginatively constructed programme, the Swedish pianist (and neuroscientist) Fredrik Ullén juxtaposes music by the two, showing that there are closer parallels between them than might be expected. For a start, a significant role in both composers’ work was played by religious convictions, and three of the Liszt pieces included here are related to saints of the Catholic Church: the composer’s own patron saint St Francis of Paola, St Dorothea and St Francis of Assisi, whose sermon to the birds is the subject of the first of the Two Legends. But both men also ventured into unexplored musical territory, with Messiaen exploring bird song (which he chose to regard as an expression of ‘religious joy’) and Hindu rhythms, for instance in Cantéyodjayâ. Meanwhile Liszt in his later years would develop an austere musical style full of dissonance, whole-tone scales, diminished and augmented chords – as striking as it is advanced, and looking ahead far into the twentieth century. One of the prime examples of this late style is Unstern! Sinistre, disastro. On several discs for BIS, Fredrik Ullén has demonstrated not only a stupendous virtuosity, but also a striking originality in his choice of repertoire, including Ligeti’s Études and George Flynn’s unique, almost two-hour long triptych Trinity, described as ‘an utterly convincing performance of this incredible work’ on the website Music Web International.