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WORKS: La Nativité du Seigneur
PERFORMER: Tom Winpenny (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573332


Messiaen’s music is not genteel. His nine-movement organ cycle La Nativité du Seigneur may include some tableaux that evoke scenes on a Christmas card, but there is also an ever-present sense of vast cosmic forces at work. Messiaen makes this explicit by evoking the shadow of the cross in the seventh movement, ‘Jesus accepts suffering’, but the enormity of what is being portrayed means there is nothing half-hearted anywhere in the cycle.

As such, with sumptuous use of colour, moments of dazzling virtuosity and thrilling power, not to mention plenty of good tunes, it is small wonder it has a firm place in the organ repertoire. This new version from Tom Winpenny features the organ at St Alban’s Cathedral, a fine instrument with a vivid range of timbre. Winpenny plays with impressive precision and clarity. Each detail of the scintillating toccata of ‘Dieu parmi nous’ can be readily heard, even where Messiaen’s music deliberately obscures the texture.

Both the playing and the recorded sound are technically impressive. And yet, neither conveys the visceral excitement, the joy, wonder and power of the best versions. In this performance, the repeating cantilenas that conclude ‘Les Bergers’ suggest a well-groomed, middle-class choir of besuited office workers rather than ecstatic songs of praise from poor shepherds who have seen the Saviour. There are moments of beauty and invention but, when everything is so neatly in place, it is hard to convey a sense of reality undergoing fundamental change.


Christopher Dingle