Olivier Messiaen “Messiaen par lui-meme” [EMI]
Time to go mono-a-mono with one of the more impressive historical artifact recordings out there.
It’s so incredible that, with all the various technologies and methods made newly available to composers in the 20th century and with the wealth of music available to listeners via recordings & kick-ass radio stations, we should be able to immediately identify a few seconds? worth of music as a particular composer’s. Such is the case within the first few chords of the first track of these 4 CDs of Messiaen’s music.
Despite his difficult music (the orchestral stuff tries even my patience at times), Messiaen is a pivotal figure in 20th century music: birdman, composer, husband, teacher, P.O.W., and devout Catholic. Above all, professionally, he was an organist. In the 1910s he studied with the two organ giants Widor and Dupr?, and he was the organist for the Trinity Church in Paris for over 60 years. That’s 60 years of Sundays spent playing Catholic masses, improvisations, and his own compositions (in that order). These 1956 recordings of Messiaen playing his own works on his own organ are revelationary.
Forget everything you knew/know about God, devotion, and spirituality. Messiaen knows more. The scriptures flow right off the page, through his optic nerve, are routed through the brain down to the fingers, onto the keyboard, and blown through the 110-year-old pipes. The sounds are mysterious, exotic, and hypnotic; they envelop you in modes of unlimited expedition, elevate you to nirvana, negate meter, and transcend dissonance. He has perfect sense of timing and unrhythm, imbuing his music with a slow throb, a deep Manaunaun-ish pulse.
The recording quality, the organ quality, and even the organist quality may not the best (those seeking hi-fi pyrotechnics should check out Latry’s Messiaen set), but how could you in good conscience pass up the real deal offered here?
Two great starting points:
CD 1 Track 1: (7:22)
CD 3 Track 4: (17:16)
3-word review: Holier Than Thou
-Cujo, KFJC, April 2006