ALBUM TITLE: Messiaen
WORKS: Les corps glorieux; Apparition de l’eglise éternelle; Le banquet
PERFORMER: Timothy Byram-Wigfield (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: DCD 34024
Les corps glorieux is Messiaen’s second proper organ cycle, but it has not fared especially well on disc beyond complete surveys. Written in 1939, it was originally introduced by its composer as a pendant to the earlier cycle La nativité du Seigneur. Nevertheless, these ‘seven brief visions of the life of the resurrected’ delve much deeper into the heart of Messiaen’s faith than the quasi-narrative Christmas meditations of La nativité. However picturesque the shepherds and magi might be, it is the theological territory explored by Les corps glorieux, not least the ‘mystery of the Holy Trinity’ in the final movement, that is typical of the composer’s music as a whole.
Timothy Byram-Wigfield has the broad measure of the cycle, with a natural affinity for the pacing of Messiaen’s music supported by generally well-chosen registrations. The organ of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle has a suitably broad palette of colours and packs a punch. That said, the disc is recorded at a significantly higher level than its rivals, exaggerating, but not entirely accounting for the lack of dynamic extremes, especially in hushed moments. Consequently, Apparition de l’eglise éternelle, an organ equivalent of Debussy’s ‘Sunken Cathedral’, becomes a meaningless affair. At times, notably the opening of ‘Combat de la mort et de la vie’, the organ is decidedly polite, lacking the rude growling of the composer’s performance (EMI), the menace of Jennifer Bate (Regis) or the flourish of Gillian Weir’s marvellous account (Priory). Byram-Wigfield’s performance is fine, but a little lacking in excess.