Messiaen: Livre du Saint-Sacrement

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COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Livre du Saint-Sacrement
PERFORMER: Paul Jacobs (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572436-37

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Tackling Messiaen’s last organ work, the 18-movement Livre du Saint-Sacrement, is not for the faint hearted. It is not that this work has the greatest technical demands in his output for the instrument, though challenges abound. Rather, it is the mental stamina required for negotiating the cycle’s vast architecture, while still retaining an immediacy of thought for the individual movements.

That Paul Jacobs has the requisite stamina is certainly not in doubt, for he has made a speciality of performing the entirety of Messiaen’s organ output in single, nine-hour sittings. Leaving aside the extent to which such marathons truly serve the music, the ambition certainly reflects Messiaen’s penchant for the grandiose, for monumental statements.

Nonetheless, there is also a sense in this performance of getting on with it, as if ticking off a ‘to do’ list. The playing is magnificent, with a splendid sense of colour and power, but there is scope for much more space. The eighth movement, ‘The Institution of the Eucharist’ is a case in point. The registration and speed of each passage are finely judged, but each phrase snaps too eagerly at the heels of its predecessor.

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There is much to admire here, with dazzlingly refulgent, scrunching chords in the ‘Resurrection’ movement, but it displaces neither Gillian Weir’s commanding account (Priory) nor Jennifer Bate’s classic, and exceptionally broad, version (Regis). Christopher Dingle