Messiaen: The Complete Organ Works

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COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: The Complete Organ Works
PERFORMER: Gillian Weir (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 7031-2 DDD
What makes a first-rate interpreter of Messiaen’s organ works? Certainly a player with a complete mastery of technique, but, moreover, a technique that enables the player to see beyond the printed page and actually interpret the music. Also a player with the imagination and feeling for musical colour that will lend potency to the rich religious symbolism that abounds in the music.

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Well, let me put my cards on the table straight away, and say that Gillian Weir displays all these prerequisites in abundance on this seven-disc complete cycle, recorded on the four-manual Frobenius organ in Århus Cathedral, Denmark. If you like to test both the water and the dynamic threshold of your speakers with toccatas from Messiaen’s earlier cycles, sample the overwhelming impact of ‘Transports de joie’ from L’ascension or ‘Dieu parmi nous’ from La nativité du Seigneur. The reeds, French in origin, are among the most vividly recorded I have heard (the 32-foot pedal reed is surprisingly round and well focused) and Weir’s sparkling dexterity is aided by a clear and distinct acoustic.

What impresses me most throughout these recordings is the innate coherence and imagination that Gillian Weir imparts to the various facets of Messiaen’s art. In the cycle Les corps glorieux, there is an almost percussive rhythmic élan to ‘Joie et clarté des corps glorieux’, and there is a palpable tightening of the knot in ‘Combat de la mort’.

The Frobenius organ has an array of distinctive mutation stops, used to fine effect in several movements of the Livre d’orgue. Listen to the opening ‘Reprises par intervention’ for a marvellous juxtaposition of mutations and growling pedal reeds.

There is a penetrating depth to the sound of the organ that has been captured well by the engineers, nowhere heard more awesomely than in the ‘Apparition de l’eglise eternelle’.

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This is a Messiaen cycle that should now enter the shelves of every devotee of his music as a preferred version. Stephen Haylett