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Olivier Messiaen: Apparation De L'eglise Eternelle; La Nativite Du Seigneur

Messiaen / Lecaudey
Release Date: 03/29/2011 
Label:  Pavane   Catalog #: 7528   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Jean-Pierre Lecaudey
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MESSIAEN La Nativité du Seigneur. Apparition de l’Église Eternelle Jean-Pierre Lecaudey (org) PAVANE ADW7528 (65:10)

In addition to a substantial solo career as an organist, Jean-Pierre Lecaudey teaches organ and composition at the Avignon Conservatory in France. In 2002, he gave a series of concerts of Olivier Messiaen’s music to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of the composer, and these recordings come from that time (I assume they aren’t live recordings of the concerts Read more themselves). Lecaudey plays the organ of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, which was rebuilt (1977–83) by Pascal Quoirin to a wide-ranging brief that focused on the needs of 20th-century music. It certainly sounds fine, particularly in a recording such as this in which the ambience doesn’t overwhelm the detail.

La Nativité du Seigneur (The Nativity of our Lord) is the second of Messiaen’s great cycles of meditations for organ (the first being L’Ascension ). Completed in 1935, it consolidated a number of the compositional techniques that were to serve the composer well in the future. It is the most recorded of the cycles (ArkivMusic lists 17 versions at the time of this writing) and is undoubtedly the most accessible, not least because of its Christmassy themes. The composer emphasized that it consciously attempts a theological response to the subject of the Incarnation rather than a spiritual one, though it has to be said that the response is so subjective, it is hard to tell the difference. The cycle consists of three groups of three meditations (the number nine being associated with birth, numerologically, for obvious reasons) interleaved with each other to produce musical as well as dramatic contrast. What I think is daring about the piece is the extent to which large tracts of it are slow, meditative music: either dwelling on spiritual matters (for example, the long second part of “Le Verbe” and “Desseins éternels”) or providing more terrestrial depictions of the characters in the story, like the Magi (“Les Mages”). The composer only sparingly pulls out the stops (literally) to deliver some highly telling climaxes, the apex of the work, I feel, being the ending of “Jésus accepte la Souffrance” (Jesus accepts Suffering), where the music foresees the Crucifixion and, at the end, Jesus’ ascension to heaven. So, a valuable recording of the work will be one where the performer is particularly responsive to the meditative, quiet music.

Jean-Pierre Lecaudey is such a person. The long, often monodic passages of meditation hold my interest at tempi that are always well chosen. Yet, when asked to pull out a blinding climax, he does it impressively. “Jésus accepte la Souffrance” is the movement to sample in order to hear this as it not only veers from brief quiet passages to an ending in which Messiaen pulls an extraordinary climax out of nothing; it also starts with wonderfully growly bass notes depicting suffering. For all that Messiaen emphasized the theological aspects, La Nativité is a highly descriptive work, and Lecaudey acquits this aspect very well, whether it is the wise men plodding to the manger with their camels (“Les Mages”), angels beating jewel-encrusted wings (“Les Anges”), or the depiction of God descending to Man (in “Le Verbe” and “Dieu parmi nous”), which is done with stunning descending bass lines in the pedals. Lecaudey integrates the nine movements, some of which are themselves sectional, into a satisfying whole, which effortlessly leads the listener through their 65 plus minutes. The organ delivers an unfailingly clear sound with the varying stops blending rather than competing, even in the most complex tuttis, and the recording very nicely balances the need for clarity with the need for an appropriately resonant acoustic. The organ mechanism is a little obtrusive in “Desseins éternels,” but this does not worry me.

Apparition de l’Église Eternelle (Apparition of the Eternal Church) opens the disc—unwisely, I think, for the massiveness of this piece overwhelms anything that follows it. As soon as it started, I felt it was too fast, Lecaudey throwing away the whole point of the work, which is a processional, a composed crescendo during which the music implacably approaches the listener until it reaches a vast, cosmic, and almost eternal chord (marked fffff !), before receding into the distance. Lecaudey sounds too hasty to me. A recourse to the score reveals that the composer’s tempo marking is Très lent (very slow) with, in parentheses, the tempo of eighth-note equals 54. I calculate Lecaudey is, however, close at around 56, whereas the recommendable Olivier Latry (DG) is about 46, taking 9:20 to Lecaudey’s 8:02 (and Gillian Weir is even slower, taking 10:45 on Priory). I will be presumptuous enough to suggest the composer has miscalculated his tempo; the work demands, above all, an interpretation that is as awe-inspiring as possible. I like Weir’s tempo, but her choices of registration are muddy in the climactic center of the work. Lecaudey, and his organ and recording, are much clearer in this respect. Notwithstanding my personal reservations about Apparition , this disc is well worth auditioning.

FANFARE: Jeremy Marchant
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Works on This Recording

Apparition de l'église éternelle by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Jean-Pierre Lecaudey (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932; France 
Date of Recording: 01/2002 
Venue:  Collégiale Saint-Martin de Saint-Rémy-de 
Length: 8 Minutes 11 Secs. 
La nativité du Seigneur by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Jean-Pierre Lecaudey (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; France 
Date of Recording: 01/2002 
Venue:  Collégiale Saint-Martin de Saint-Rémy-de 
Length: 55 Minutes 33 Secs. 

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