Messiaen – Jennifer Bate

Apparition de l’église éternelle
La Nativité du Seigneur

Jennifer Bate (organ)

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 17 August, 2008
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Jennifer BateThe Proms continued its celebration of Olivier Messiaen’s centenary with thisprogramme given by Jennifer Bate who enjoyed a close workingrelationship with the composer. She has recorded much of Messiaen’s organmusic and won his warm approval. Her series of Messiaen recordings isnow on the budget-priced label Regis (RRC 6001). The two works in thisconcert are on a single disc – RRC 1086. Messiaen’s reaction to Bate’srecorded performance of La Nativité du Seigneur was “C’est vraimentparfait!”.

Nearly twenty years on since those authoritative recordings, JenniferBate continues to play with exceptional conviction. I did not detect anyflaws in the playing throughout this challenging programme; indeed hercommand of the instrument was never in doubt and she drew from it a wide range of sounds.

Apparition de l’église éternelle is the third of Messiaen’s publishedorgan pieces and one of the first he wrote following his appointment asorganist at the church of La Trinité in Paris in 1931.

It consists of a protracted crescendo and diminuendo, the texture beingentirely made up of chords. Varying chord types – from intenselychromatic to stark open fifths – move slowly and inexorably towards a C major climax and then recede to the quietude from whence they emerged. Jennifer Bate’s playing was completely compelling. However, someone should have informed the BBC presenter who introduced Bate’s recital (or she should know!) that music does not build to a crescendo!

La Nativité du Seigneur is a sequence of nine ‘meditations’ on various aspects of the Christmas story. Like all of Messiaen’s organ music – andmuch of it in other genres – this work is closely knit to the composer’s devout Catholic beliefs. A lengthy preface to the score states thatthese “nine pieces … honour the maternity of the BlessedVirgin” and that “the musical work … must be at the service of the dogmas of Catholic theology.”

Each movement has a separate title but is no mere ‘picture book’ of the events in Bethlehem, even though the shepherds are depicted by means of a somewhat jerky dance and there is some weirdly wonderful music for theMagi. Some of the music is quite intense and, in places, dramatic andsearching. Messiaen’s musical ‘interpretation’ of theological ideas is not always a comfortable one.

Once again, Bate captured the varying moods between and withineach of the pieces and her choice of registration was ideally suited,notwithstanding the fact that the Royal Albert Hall organ has a verydifferent sonority from that in La Trinité, for which Messiaen conceivedthis music.

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