MESSIAEN La nativité du Seigneur (Richard Gowers)
Messiaen’s nine-movement reflection on the birth of Christ has long earned its place as one of the great classics for organ, so it is no surprise to see King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, adding its voice to the catalogue of fine recordings of the work.
This new release on King’s own label is most certainly very fine indeed. Lingering thoughts that this famous organ might be just too English to get its tongue around the Gallic accents of Messiaen are conclusively brushed aside with the tremendously focused and intensely cerebral playing of Richard Gowers. In his own essay on why he chose to record this work, he suggests that ‘it has been connected with the Chapel and organ at King’s for a long time’, and goes on to remind us that its final part, the thrilling toccata ‘Dieu parmi nous’, has often been used as the postlude to the annual service of Nine Lessons and Carols.
But this sentimental connection aside – and his is a singularly thrilling performance of that movement – Gowers conveys the fundamental musicality of the work. There is a sense here that he feels the music, that he shares much of the Messiaen’s vision and that he knows exactly what he wants to music to say to the listener, whether or not the organ makes the sort of sound Messiaen might originally have had in mind.
The recording quality is also very fine, as are the copious booklet notes – the absence of any material about the organ is appropriate since Gowers’s performance is never intended as a showcase of organ colours – and all told I recommend this disc wholeheartedly, even in the light of some pretty stiff competition from the likes of Olivier Latry (DG, 5/02) and one of Gowers’s illustrious predecessors as a King’s organ scholar, Simon Preston (Decca/Eloquence, 3/66, 3/18).