Paul Jacobs

Olivier Messiaen: Livre du Saint-Sacrement

  • AllMusic Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by

The Livre du Saint-Sacrement of Olivier Messiaen was the composer's last organ work, composed in the early '80s and premiered at a Detroit, MI, meeting of the American Guild of Organists. Somewhat neglected, it deserves attention as a sort of summation of all the techniques this great original thinker of the 20th century created. The work is inspired by the Communion sacrament and is essentially a programmatic reflection on the sacrament itself and on episodes from the life of Christ, indicated in biblical or philosophical quotations in the score. The music makes use of the unusual scales (known as modes of limited transposition) of Messiaen's later music, of his penchant for birdsong-like music, of his "communicable language" technique (whereby musical notes spell out words, in this case "resurrection"), of tone clusters, of quotations of chant, and generally of the composer's familiarity with the capabilites of the organ. These details may reveal themselves to a greater or lesser degree, but the work's scope, religious fervor, and sheer power will be evident to any listener. It's a colorful work in the extreme, and its long passages in the organ's lowest register will rattle anything in the vicinity that can be rattled. The sound engineering here is excellent; sample the antiphonal cluster effect in the 13th movement, "Les deux murailles d'eau" (The Two Walls of Water, track 13), and hear how the echoes in the space of New York's Church of St. Mary the Virgin almost seem to become part of the music. Credit goes to engineer Stephen Roessner, but most of all to American organist Paul Jacobs, a preeminent Messiaen specialist who does full justice to the music's sheer enthusiasm and makes sure there's never a dull moment. If you've heard Messiaen's better-known works of the 1940s and 1950s and are in the mood for something both weighty and spectacular, give this double disc a try; it may blow your speakers but will definitely blow your mind. Notes are in French and English.

blue highlight denotes track pick