Messiaen: Complete Works for Organ

WORKS: Complete Works for Organ
PERFORMER: Jennifer Bate, Naji Hakim, Thomas Daniel Schlee, Hans-Ola Ericsson, Jon Gillock & Louis Thiry (organ)
Messiaen’s music can appear both engagingly naive and rigorously complex. It declares its influences openly (birdsong, plainsong, Indian rhythmic patterns, Indonesian percussion, to name just a few) and frequently attempts to envisage spiritual matters of staggering magnitude. The source of Messiaen’s creative impulse was no secret; steered indefatigably by his belief in a creator, and the doctrines of Roman Catholicism, he aimed through music to empathise with creation in all its colours and vibrancy (Messiaen’s synaesthesia is. discussed in Tuning Up this month).


Despite focusing on matters of the infinite, it is music of astonishing certainty, though, a rather non-speculative ‘substance’ whose purpose derives from the composer’s calling to reveal biblical truths as he perceived them, and to express the joys of Creation as he experienced them. Nowhere can this feet-on-the-ground, affirmatory approach be better seen than in the organ works; they are a fundamental key to understanding Messiaen the believer, and a lifetime-long cross-section of his musical preoccupations.

During the 1995 Messiaen Festival the complete works for organ were performed over six concerts at the Parisian church where Messiaen was organist from 1931 until his death in 1992, La Sainte-Trinite. The series brought together six. players to perform works which stretch over half a century from 1928 to 1984, and the recordings of all six concerts have now been released by Editions Jade as a complete set, with Jennifer Bate’s contribution (Le banquet celeste and La nativitedu Seigneur) also available on a single disc (Jade 29890-2, S665). The players were personally known to, and highly regarded by, the composer: Jennifer Bate, Jon Gillock, Naji Hakim (Messiaen’s successor at La Trinite) Louis Thiry, Thomas Daniel Schlee and Hans-Ola Ericsson.

Although Messiaen recorded his complete organ music to date in 1956 (once more available on EMI: ‘Messiaen par lui-meme’), this is the first opportunity to hear the post-1956 works (Versetfour laftte de la dedicace, Meditations sur le mystere de la. Sainte-Trinite and the monumental, 18-movement Livre du Saint Socremeni) played on the instrument which became synonymous with the composer-improviser, an instrument inextricably bound up with Messiaen’s conception of timbre and texture.


This is an excellent addition to the catalogue. The playing is stimulating throughout, and the programming of each disc extremely apposite. Messiaen’s own descriptions are used in the booklets, providing welcome musical and theological support for die listener. These discs are a wonderful opportunity to hear the Trinity organ in very good condition (Messiaen instigated two rebuildings) and moreover a chance to glimpse — rather like a contemporary Machaut or Dunstaple — Messiaen’s divining of the cosmos. Andrew McCrea