MESSIAEN La Nativité du Seigneur. Offrande au Saint-Sacrement
There is no shortage of excellent recordings of Messiaen’s second substantial organ work, La Nativité du Seigneur, of 1935. The composer set down an authoritative mono account in 1956 for EMI France on his beloved La Trinité organ in Paris, which was in a parlous state of repair at that time. Subsequent interpreters have, wisely perhaps, stuck more closely to the printed score, which remains a major technical tour de force for any player, especially given its bizarre ametrical rhythmic challenges, cramp-inducing long-held chords and exacting registrational demands.
The latest artist to tackle this set of nine ‘meditations’, the British-born Andrew Canning, is note-perfect, having at his disposal a truly magnificent organ, the 71-stop Italian-built Ruffatti (2009) in Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden, where he has worked since 1996. Its stop-list is easily capable of matching each of Messiaen’s timbral requirements. My only disappointment is that no use was made of the Cymbelstern or Glockenspiel stops. Another time, perhaps!
Alas, the CD booklet gives only the scantiest details, printing the biblical quotations (in English) preceding each movement, together with information on the organ and its player. It is disappointing that the highly complex hinterland of this breakthrough work is not explained. From a purely aural perspective, such ignorance might lead the unwary to consider much of this work as boring and indulgent – akin to an incoherent rambling improvisation (eg ‘Le Verbe’). Things brighten up with ‘Les enfants de Dieu’, the first of three toccata-style movements (although it runs out of steam after a minute or so) and ‘Les Anges’, whose vividly fluttering wings are beautifully caught. After ‘Les Mages’ (The Wise Men) have plodded by with heavy feet it is with some relief that we reach the concluding ‘Dieu parmi nous’, the best known movement, with its ‘nutty slack’ harmony and that glorious added-sixth chord at the end.
A marvellous performance, therefore, let down by the presentation.