Messiaen: La nativité du Seigneur

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COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: OxRecs
WORKS: La nativité du Seigneur
PERFORMER: Louise Marsh (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: OXCD 86 (distr. 01865 300347; www.oxrecs.com)
Though Messiaen came to feel it was overrated, La nativité has always held a special place in the organ repertoire, capturing the story of the incarnation in a sequence of highly coloured sound portraits. Louise Marsh gives an extremely accomplished account of the work, revealing both clarity and warmth of touch. With music of such cosmic significance, players are apt to veer towards a cool and rational approach, particularly in movements using Messiaen’s mathematically derived rhythms, but Marsh illumines her playing, and humanises the music, with a softer caress, particularly in ‘Les bergers’ and ‘Le verbe’. The long cornet solo in the latter movement is particularly beautiful. She reveals a formidable technique, too, in ‘Les enfants de Dieu’ and ‘Dieu parmi nous’. Here there is a real sense of the agitation caused by the Word as it passes from God into the world.

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It has to be said that the organ of Wakefield Cathedral is never going to win laurels, and has been pushed to its limits in the pursuit of French sounds. In particular the positif manual, smaller on English organs than French, sounds sour and overstretched. Unfortunately the booklet is reticent about giving details of either player or organ. Fortunately, in this case, the music speaks for itself. William Whitehead