Petr Eben’s biblical cycle for organ, Job, was written
in 1987. His other major work for the instrument was Faust
(1976-1980). In the concert version of this work Job
necessitates the role of a narrator who reads from the selected
passages from the Book of Job between the eight movements for
organ. In this recording, however, which is ‘destined for transnational
diffusion’, to quote the remarkably high-flown translation (it’s
not just for the French), Gregorian chant has been preferred.
Parts of the Office and the Mass of Job were selected that were
most proximate to the texts chosen by Eben. It is thus that
the work has been somewhat taken off its axis.
The organ is played by Olivier d’Ormesson, who was only 25 when
the recording was made. It is no ordinary organ. It’s the Cavaillé-Coll
of Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts in Paris built by the great
maker in 1894 and which was fully restored in 2004. The chants
are declaimed by Hervé Lamy, whose sensitive and resonant contributions
were overlaid in September 2008 and February 2009.
Job is not a particularly easy listen. Much depends
on the necessary levels of concentration and contemplation required
to allow the music to enter one’s bloodstream. It’s questionable
whether the Gregorian chant heightens or dissipates the charge
generated by Eben’s remarkably evocative organ writing and whether
the necessarily more generalised, thus less word-specific texts,
rob something essential from the symbiotic relationship between
the instrument and the reader of texts.
For me, the pleasures of hearing d’Ormesson’s playing, and on
so fine an instrument, tend to allay fears. The rich reed voicings
he cultivates in Destiny, which so viscerally italicise
Job’s impending fate in the form of a toccata, offer rich rewards.
Eben’s variety of expression and form ensure that interest is
both kindled and maintained. The chorale in the Acceptance
of Suffering movement or the Passacaglia in Longing
for Death are suffused with the depth of Job’s predicaments,
and in particular its incremental nature, vividly depicted in
that latter movement. It is not accidental that the longest
chant, the Offertorium Vir erat prefaces the most rancorous
organ episode in Despair and Resignation, where Job
rails against, and finally accepts, God’s Will.
Some may find Eben’s evocation of the Mystery too simplified
and that the mysterious chords and questioning flute voicings
are perhaps inadequate responses. I happen not to agree, not
least when the music amplifies and expands in complexity thereafter,
and when the unifying sonority of the reeds reappear. Thus when
the chorale variations that end the work also appear, they do
so after hard-won victory, and the wonder, the elation and the
certainty enshrined in the writing achieves its genuinely spiritual
effect. They stand at the very summit of the journey from destiny
through acceptance, despair, and abandonment through mystery,
penitence to, finally, reward.
The DSD recording is outstandingly good. Given the chants I
am reluctant to lavish general praise, but I was impressed by
the concept and execution.