Messiaen: Early Organ Works

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COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Simax
WORKS: Early Organ Works: L’Ascension; Diptyque; Prélude; Offrande au Saint-Sacrement; Apparition de l’église éternelle; Le banquet céleste
PERFORMER: Inger-Lise Ulsrud (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: PSC 1170

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This extremely useful collection gathers works Messiaen composed before the seminal cycle La Nativité du Seigneur. At this stage in his career, Messiaen struggled to write fast music for organ. The only two genuinely nippy pieces are the riotous ‘Transports de joie’, and the opening panel of Diptyque. Nonetheless, the predominance of slow music does not result in a lack of variety. The contrast between the study of the eternal within the temporal of Le banquet céleste and the gradual unleashing of the instrument’s awesome power in Apparition de l’église éternelle underlines just how assured Messiaen already was in his early twenties.

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Apparition is especially effective in the marvellous SACD sound, and Inger-Lise Ulsrud draws searing textures from the organ at St Nikolai in Halmstad, Sweden. The caveat comes in the second panel of the Diptyque (which became the violin movement in Quartet for the End of Time). No organist dares come close to matching the exceptionally slow tempo on Messiaen’s own recording, but Ulsrud is positively hasty, making this sublime music seem as banal as the piece’s opening toccata. Elsewhere ‘Transports de joie’ could have a little more zip, though it feels far from sluggish in this context. The remainder of L’Ascension, and Le banquet have tremendous poise, and she is a fine advocate of the posthumously published Prélude and Offrande au Saint-Sacrement. Christopher Dingle