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Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Organ Works
Livre d'Orgue (1951) [45:37]
Monodie (1963) [3:54]
Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité (1969) [83:43]
Michael Bonaventure (organ)
rec. Rieger Organ of St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, 1 December 2005, 8 January 2007
DELPHIAN DCD34016 [72:02 + 61:12]
Experience Classicsonline

This latest offering on the excellent Delphian label features three of Messiaen's organ works, one explicitly liturgical, and the others composed as formal exercises.
The Méditations were composed for an evening of music and preaching on the theme of the Trinity to celebrate the refurbishment of the grand organ at La Trinité in Paris. The different movements or sections respectively symbolise the father, the son, the holy spirit and the godhead in its totality. It is the latest of the works recorded on this disc, following the composition of the monumental orchestral cycle La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ, and shows the composer's mature style. However, the final performing version was premiered not in this setting and not even in France, but rather in the USA, at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Washington, DC on a German-built organ. This recording is therefore likely to have a sound quality closer to that of the world premiere - and also of the European premiere, which was in Düsseldorf - than the French recordings. This in itself may be a point of significant interest.
Livre d'orgue forms one of a series of works in which he explored and developed his musical language formally, using different rhythmic procedures. This gives it something of the sound of a technical exercise for the player; it is not one of the most accessible of the composer's works. For this reason, it would not be the best introduction to his writing - whether specifically for organ or more generally. And I say this despite the excellence of both playing and recording on this disc. Monodie is a short work commissioned in 1963 by Messiaen's assistant, Jean Bonfils, who was writing an organ tutorial. It is unusual, amongst the composer's output, in its simplicity - using just a single line.
Born in 1962, Michael Bonaventure learned his craft on this particular instrument, having been an organ pupil of Herrick Bunney at this Cathedral. He was also a composition student of Judith Weir at Glasgow University. From 1980 to 1997, he appeared regularly as a recitalist in the Edinburgh Festival fringe, and has performed Livre d'Orgue live on this organ in 1994. He is particularly known for commissioning and premiering new works and arrangements for solo organ, including the compositions of Jean-Pierre Leguay, organist at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. A selection of these can be heard on the companion Delphian Records disc, 2000 Nails (DCD 34013). He is currently organist of all Saints Church, Blackheath in London.
The Rieger organ was built in 1992 by the Austrian firm of Rieger Orgelbau, being completely new apart from retaining a small number of components from the previous (Willis, 1940) instrument. Details of its specification are given in the accompanying notes.
There are already a number of authoritative recordings of Messiaen's organ works: by the composer himself, by Olivier Latry, by Jennifer Bate, by Gillian Weir and by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent. This recording is by someone particularly associated with contemporary music and with Scottish composers; and is made on an Austrian organ located in a Scottish cathedral. Inevitably its sound will reflect the design of the instrument and the acoustic of the setting, as well as the performer’s own interpretative insights and choices. The Germanic-style organ here has a different tone colour to those of the French tradition with which Messiaen's music is so closely associated. It has a sharp, clear and precise sound, resulting in a very defined recording.
Michael Bonaventure's approach is to my mind closest to that of Jennifer Bate (which I also like) amongst the well-known recordings, and the furthest from that of Olivier Latry, although the same could be said of their respective instruments. These have already been definitively compared elsewhere on this site. It is both dynamic and sensitive, and the recording is good; I have found it very enjoyable to listen to. The question must be whether it is to be preferred to the several recordings by leading performers including those closely associated with the composer. Given the very close connection between Messiaen's writing for the organ and the French liturgical tradition, it is unlikely that this would be the only recording one would want to own. However, it has technical merits and modern recording quality, unlike the otherwise definitive (to my mind) version of the composer's playing of his own work. Indeed, arguably the nature of the instrument and the nature of the setting produce a result technically superior to any other recording save for that of Gillian Weir on Deutsche Grammophon.
Of the several authoritative performances available, which one prefers must to some extent be a matter of personal taste and preference. This year's South Bank Messiaen Festival provides the opportunity to hear several of these renowned interpreters playing live, which must surpass any recording of this repertoire.
The serious enthusiast will almost certainly want to add this award-winning disc to their collection. Lovers of this particular organ will find it interesting to hear it put through its paces in this particular repertoire. For other listeners, this CD may well have a place as one of two or more recordings they own of this work.
Julie Williams




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