Messiaen - Livre du Saint Sacrement

Rieger Organ
OLIVIER MESSIAEN - Livre du Saint Sacrement - Michael Bonaventure (Organ) - 2-Disc Set - 801918340765 - Delphian DCD34076

"Music is a perpetual dialogue between space and time, between sound and colour, and this dialogue results in a unification: time is a space, sound is a colour, space is a complex of overlapping times, complexes of sound exist simultaneously as complexes of colours. The musician who thinks, sees, hears, and speaks using these fundamental concepts can, to a certain extent, approach the hereafter." {Olivier Messiaen}

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) is one of those composers whose music attracts extremes of opinion. You either love his music or you don't. You either 'get' his music or you don't. I know people who, if they could, would listen to pipe organ music 24 hours a day, but can't bear to listen to even 1 minute of Messiaen's organ works. And I also know some people who generally don't listen to organ recordings, but yet will sit transfixed during the audition of a Messiaen organ work. An explanation for that may be that the prime objective in his organ music was not the sound of the organ itself, but rather the essence of the music. These are not works written for the organ, but rather works written to be performed on an organ. This might sound like exactly the same thing, but it is completely different. They are like orchestral works playable by one person. By doing so, Messiaen managed to take organ music out of the church, and inject it within the rest of the musical world. (Ironic when you take the deeply religious context of the works into consideration). In fact, the Livre du Saint Sacrement, his last great organ work, is one of his strongest theological statements. And according to him, theology being a subject that encompasses all subjects.

This magnificent recording by organist Michael Bonaventure could very well be the recording capable of convincing the Messiaen detractors to switch camps. My recording of choice over the years has always been the Jennifer Bate performance on the Unicorn label. It was the 1987 world première recording done in the presence of the composer himself, and is an interpretation that I still highly recommend. But Michael Bonaventure, a staunch supporter of new music, seems to capture the essence, the raison d'être of this music, at a much higher level. In fact, if you want to feel the presence of the power of God, listen to the Les Deux Murailles d'eau movement played on the incredible Rieger Organ of St. Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh, and if the final devastating chord doesn't stir something in you, than nothing ever will. And for those of you who don't 'get' Messiaen, once you hear the Prière après la communion segment of this work, I believe you will. The quotation by Messiaen himself at the beginning of this review, best describes this magical piece. For over 6 minutes, the harmonic structure of the music seems to wander, suspended in time and space, suspended in disbelief, until it reaches its final destination and tonal resting place in the perfect triad at the end. Another moment that organist Michael Bonaventure 'feels' rather than plays.

The Delphian 24-bit recording captures the sound, and the surrounding space, of this impressive organ very well. From the intimacy of individual pipes to the splendour of the plein-jeux, you can almost feel the presence of the cathedral's stone walls in your living room. Highly Recommended!!

Jean-Yves Duperron