Messiaen: Le banquet céleste

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LABELS: Eloquence
ALBUM TITLE: Messiaen Le banquet céleste
WORKS: Le banquet céleste; Les corps glorieux; Apparition de l’église éternelle; Verset pour la Fete de la Dédicace; L’Ascension – selections
PERFORMER: Gillian Weir (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 481 0793


Gillian Weir’s career has been entwined with Messiaen’s music since her student days, so these previously unreleased 1966 recordings make a fascinating companion to her more recent complete survey (Priory). The release is especially timely: with the Royal Festival Hall’s organ recently reinstalled after a lengthy refurbishment, here the instrument is captured in prime condition early in its life. It sounds marvellous, especially in a recording that was demonstration class for its time. The youthful Weir’s registrations fully demonstrate that this organ has the power and timbral range for Messiaen’s music, though the addition of what sounds like an industrial hammer drill as L’apparition de l’église éternelle growls to its climax is a rare questionable choice.

The most substantial work is Les corps glorieux, a seven-movement cycle from 1939. Weir proves a strong advocate. ‘Les eaux de la grâce’ and ‘L’ange aux parfums’ are a touch ponderous, but the penultimate ‘Joie et clarté des corps glorieux’ is wonderfully exuberant, and the deliberately abstruse ‘Le mystère de la Sainte-Trinité’ is utterly mesmerising. The sublime playing of the inner two movements of L’Ascension make it all the more frustrating the tapes for the rest could not be found. Weir’s gentle transition to the final section of ‘Alleluias serein’ is especially lovely. Fine performances of Le banquet céleste and the rarely heard Verset pour la Fête de la Dédicace complete an enticing set.


Christopher Dingle