Messiaen: Livre du Saint Sacrement

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LABELS: Delphian
WORKS: Livre du Saint Sacrement
PERFORMER: Michael Bonaventure (organ)


Although he composed hardly any music directly for the liturgy, it is no surprise that Messiaen’s last and longest organ work should be a set of meditations on the Eucharist. The 18 movements of the Livre du Saint Sacrement stand as the composer’s summa for his own instrument in much the same way as his opera, Saint François d’Assise, acts as a summa for just about everything else. Following hard on the heels of a fine performance of the Méditations (reviewed last issue), and a couple of caveats aside, this new account from Michael Bonaventure is a magnificent achievement. His finely judged registrations for the Rieger organ at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, produces a wide palette of colours, from the intimate sensitivity of ‘Institution de l’eucharistie’ to the exuberant birdsong of ‘La joie de la grâce’. Bonaventure also has a fine pacing for this marathon cycle, though a little more space in the two ‘Prière’ movements would be welcome. The ninth movement, ‘Les ténèbres’, which depicts the various kinds of darkness following the death of Jesus, is the one that does not quite fire. There is a surprising lack of power from the pedals, and, whereas he hangs on gloriously to the dazzling ending of ‘La résurrection du Christ’, Bonaventure releases the eerie final chord of ‘Les ténèbres’ before it has had its full chilling effect. Nonetheless, from the unassuming opening of ‘Adoro te’ to the seven searing chords at the end of ‘Offrande et alleluia final’, Bonaventure is utterly compelling and can be heartily recommended. Christopher Dingle