Print this page

Olivier Messiaen: The Complete Organ Works Volume 4

Reviews- Volume Four

The organ works of Olivier Messiaen are now recognized as among the most important creations for the instrument in the 20th century. In recent years, several artists, following the example of the composer himself, have undertaken the daunting task of committing the complete œuvre to disc. Dame Gillian Weir first recorded the (then) complete organ works in 1979 at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., where Messiaen premiered his Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité. The composer later persuaded her to re-record the series digitally (“CDs are all the rage now, you know!” he said), which she did in 1994. Originally issued on Collins Classics in association with BBC Radio 3, these recordings, which have garnered rave review internationally, were sadly allowed to fall out of print, and were for some time unavailable. Fortunately, Priory Records had the wisdom to re-release the entire set in 2003. Volume One presents the early works: Apparition de l'Église eternelle, La Nativité du Seigneur, and Le Banquet céleste. Volume Four contains L'Ascension and Livre d'orgue.

Gillian Weir won First Prize at the St. Alban's International Organ Festival with her playing of Messiaen's Combat de la mort et de la vie from Les Corps glorieux. Ever since, his music has occupied a central place in her multi-faceted career. Her consummate artistry, impeccable musicianship, faultless virtuosity, rhythmic plasticity, and vitality enable her to penetrate all the complexities of the music and render its essential spirit. Thus, for example, she conquers the labyrinthine rhythms and technical challenges of Livre d'orgue, so that it becomes a real spiritual experience, rather than merely a well-performed pedantic exercise. If the listener has difficulty appreciating this music, at least s/he will find it interesting in Weir's hands. At the heart of all of Messiaen's music is his deep-seated Catholic faith, coupled with his love of nature (especially mountains and bird song) and his predilection for color. Gillian Weir is clearly a kindred spirit, and this music comes vitally alive in her performances. The Frobenius organ is well chosen. The largest in Denmark, it has all the requisite tone colors, including a multitude of mutations and powerful reeds imported from France. Compared to the darker-sounding Cavaillé-Coll organs, such as the one at La Trinité in Paris where Messiaen was organist for many decades, this instrument is luminous, with a transparency, purity, and clarity of sound, yet capable of great power, able to “overwhelm” the listener, as Messiaen wished. Kudos to Priory for this re-issue. To quote a previous review from the BBC Music Magazine, “This is a Messiaen cycle that should now enter the shelves of every devotee of his musc as a preferred version.” The American Organist, October 2004

“In this fourth volume of Dame Gillian's Messiaen... we see her at her intellectual and musical height. She balances the relatively 'early' L'Ascension with the much later (and harder to understand) Livre d'Orgue, reaches into their depths and produces performances of penetrating clarity. So, for a reference interpretation of the familiar earler work and an flinging open of the window into Messiaen's later complexities , her playing cannot be bettered.” Walter Reeves, Organists' Review, May 2004

“... Transports de Joie makes the hairs on the back of one's neck stand on end!” Sydney Organ Journal, February 2004

Track Listings

Priory Records(external link) PRCD 924

DiscTrackMusic
Vol. 4 1 L'Ascension I. Majesté du Christ
2 II. Alléluias sereins
3 III. Transports de joie
4 IV. Prière du Christ
5 Livre d'Orgue I. Reprises par interversion
6 II. Pièce en Trio
7 III. Les mains de l'Abîme
8 IV. Chants d'Oiseaux
9 V. Pièce en Trio
10 VI. Les Yeux dans les Roues
11 VII. Soixante-Quatre Durées