Petr EBEN (1929-2007)
Job (1987)
Olivier d’Ormesson (organ) and Hervé Lamy (chant)
rec. June 2008 and February 2009 (organ), l’église Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts de Paris and September 2008 and February 2009 (chant), l’église Saint-Pierre de la Réole
PSALMUS PSAL006 [72:18]
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.
Jonathan Woolf
I was impressed by the concept and execution.

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