Messiaen: Livre du St Sacrement

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LABELS: Priory
ALBUM TITLE: Organ Works, Vols 5 & 6
WORKS: Livre du St Sacrement
PERFORMER: Gillian Weir (organ)
Livre du St Sacrement is the last and the largest of Messiaen’s organ cycles. Composed in the slipstream of his opera St François d’Assise, just as the earlier Méditations had followed La transfiguration, the 18 movements of the Livre revisit the subject matter that permeated his earliest works: the Blessed Sacrament. On disc, the choice in this rich work is not straightforward. Gillian Weir combines electrifying clarity with the overwhelming power that is so essential in Messiaen’s music, every nuance being captured in magnificent recorded sound. But she is not the most convinced or convincing interpreter of the Livre. Her resolute briskness rarely allows the music space to breathe so that the opening of ‘Les ressuscités et la lumière de vie’, is not so much a writing on the wall moment as doodling on a telephone pad. Taking a full 30 minutes longer, Jennifer Bate (Regis) has space aplenty, reflecting the serene, unhurried manner of the composer himself in later years. Almut Rössler (Motette), treads the middle ground, but, despite some exquisite registrations, she is straitlaced at some crucial moments, such as ‘Institution de l’Eucharistie’. Weir’s Messiaen cycle was always a strong choice, and is helped now by the bulging booklets and marvellous presentation of Priory’s reissues. By adding fine accounts of three recently discovered pieces (Prélude, Monodie and Offrande au St Sacrement) to this final volume she just about takes first place for a complete survey, even if Bate is the winning tortoise to Weir’s hare in Livre du St Sacrement. Christopher Dingle