Olivier Messiaen, Paul Jacobs - Livre du Saint-Sacrement

Published Saturday 18th September 2010
Olivier Messiaen, Paul Jacobs - Livre du Saint-Sacrement
Olivier Messiaen, Paul Jacobs - Livre du Saint-Sacrement

STYLE: Classical
RATING 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
LABEL: Naxos 857243637

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

This double CD is aimed at the three groups of people who attend organ recitals. For those interested in the musical instrument, the one on show here is The Organ at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, New York City (Aeolian Skinner Organbuilders, Boston Massachusetts, Opus 89) and very good it sounds too. The CD booklet contains a single page technical spec but no photograph, which may leave instrument buffs wanting more. The organist is an American, Paul Jacobs who is a fine player with an unusual claim to fame: in 2000 the then 23 year old Jacobs commemorated the 250th anniversary of the death of J S Bach by playing all of the composer's known organ music in one 18 marathon. Since then he has done the same for Messaien's complete organ works, which takes a mere nine hours. Which brings us to the music. 'Livre du Saint-Sacrement' ('The Book of the Blessed Sacrament') is Olivier Messiaen's last and longest organ work, a thematic cycle based on the sacrament of Communion . The two discs give us more than 100 minutes of music and Paul Jacobs keeps our attention throughout. Officially written as a commission for the 1986 convention of the American Guild of Organists in Detroit, the genesis of the work actually dates back to 1980, when, in the midst of work on his opera about Saint Francis, Messiaen had planned a series of short studies for the organ. The conception evolved into a thematic cycle based on the sacrament of Communion around 1981, with the final version of the work comprised of 18 movements (many based on his recorded improvisations) arranged into three thematic groups. Movements one-four represent acts of adoration before Communion, five-eleven depict events in the life of Christ, and 12-18 reflect on aspects the sacrament itself. Messiaen is a significant voice in 20th century church music but is also an acquired taste. This is not the easiest way in to his musical world but those who love contemporary organ music will want to investigate further.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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Reader Comments

Posted by Steven Whitehead in Buckinghamshire @ 12:01 on Feb 16 2011

February 2011 update: Paul Jacob’s disc of Messiaen’s organ work Livre Du Saint-Sacrement won Best Instrumental Soloist Performance at this year's Grammys.

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