Messiaen: Livre du St Sacrement

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WORKS: Livre du St Sacrement
PERFORMER: Anne Page (organ)
Livre du St Sacrement is Messiaen’s last and longest work for organ. As such it stands as the composer’s summa for his own instrument, meditating on the Eucharist, the same subject that inspired his earliest extant organ piece, Le banquet céleste. The 18 movements of this vast cycle are divided into three broad sections, with four contemplations of Christ followed by two groups of seven movements respectively exploring pertinent episodes of Christ’s earthly life and the mysteries of the Eucharist.


The magnitude of the task makes any performance of Livre du St Sacrement a major achievement, and there is much to praise about Anne Page’s account, such as her imaginative registrations and her joie de vivre at key moments. However, like Gillian Weir (Collins), Olivier Latry (DG) and, surprisingly, Almut Rössler (Motette) before her, Page frequently lacks the necessary sense of space for this epic cycle to have its full transcendent impact. ‘La manne et le Pain de Vie’, for instance, fails to capture the stillness essential to this desert portrait.


Ultimately for Page to knock half an hour off Bate’s timing and to clock-in 20 minutes faster than Hans-Ola Ericsson’s fine account (BIS) indicates too great a preoccupation with where the music is going without concentrating on where it is. Ericsson’s performance is definitely worth investigating, and has recordings of birdsongs quoted in the cycle as an imaginative filler, but Bate (Regis) remains the prime recommendation, especially now that her set is available at bargain price. Christopher Dingle