Messiaen, Organ Works Vol. 4

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COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Delphian
WORKS: Organ Works, Vol. 4: La nativité du seigneur; L’ascension; Messe de la pentecôte; Offrande au saint sacrement; Prélude; Diptyque; Verset pour la fête de la dédicace
PERFORMER: Timothy Byram-Wigfield (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: DCD 34078

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The two packed discs of this final instalment in Delphian’s complete survey of Messiaen’s organ music are an effective reminder of how far Messiaen travelled in the space of barely 20 years. There are early morsels, such as the Diptyque written while still a student and bearing strong echoes of Dupré in its first, toccata-like panel, while the slow second section is pure Messiaen.

By the time he composed La nativité du seigneur in 1935, the music sounds like nobody but Messiaen, while Messe de la pentecôte from 15 years later is like nothing heard before, certainly not from an organ.

The organ of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle evidently has the power and range of colour that Messiaen regarded as pre-requisites in his music, all captured in a vibrant recording that is magnificent for CD. Timothy Byram-Wigfield bristles with energy in the dynamic movements and exudes calm for Messiaen’s slow outpourings of lyricism.

Where he occasionally falters is in allowing some passages, such as in ‘Les bergers’ to sound as mechanical as they look on the page. Nor does he seem entirely enthused by the opening portion of the Diptyque. Nonetheless, these are small caveats in otherwise fine performances.

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Why, though, are the fearsome conclusions of La nativité and the Messe not the final sounds on their respective discs? Byram-Wigfield’s marvellous advocacy of the minor works is undermined by placing them in the aural shadow of these unquestionably great cycles. Christopher Dingle