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Messiaen Le Livre du Saint Sacrament

Michael Bonaventure at the organ of St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh

Delphian DCD34076 [2 CDs: 117 mins]

I have had something of a problem with Michael Bonaventure, a superb Cathedral organ recitalist (and organist at a local church near our home). We are not churchgoers and the theological centrality in Messiaen's music tends towards the off-putting.

Bonaventure tends to specialise in the more recondite contemporary works and has a penchant for the minimalists. I admired his recording of Messiaen's Livre d'orgue but found it so austere that I didn't get round to reviewing it, nor indeed an impressive lunchtime recital at one of the City churches. I have been uneasy about my hesitancy which was none of his cause, so was happy to be able to make a positive reference to his contribution in a fine CD of choral music by Giles Swayne.

That I am not alone in my resistance is endorsed by Music Web: "- - Livre d'orgue ()forms one of a series of works in which he explored and developed his musical language formally, using different rhythmic procedures. This gives it something of the sound of a technical exercise for the player; it is not one of the most accessible of the composer's works. For this reason, it would not be the best introduction to his writing - whether specifically for organ or more generally."

The justification for this preamble and apologia is that the current release is one of the greatest organ CDs of all time, and arguably the best of the many recordings celebrating Messiaen's centenary (another of those which I urge upon everyone, whether Messiaen devotees or not, is the bargain reissue of the Messiaen 80th Birthday Concert in Paris and other works [Montaigne/Naive MO 782179]. I attended the UK premiere of and would point you to Anne Ozorio's review of a more recent performance, also by Jennifer Bate and in Westminster Cathedral. She deplored the interval, during which I - twenty two years before - had been sad to see the frail, elderly composer staying in his seat to sign programmes for a procession of listeners...

Hard to believe, maybe, but Le Livre du Saint Sacrament is even more beautiful and overwhelming heard at home (with several judicious breaks !) on this demonstration class Delphian recording, for which Michael Bonaventure judges the resonance of St Giles' Cathedral organ to perfection.

Recommended without reservations

Peter Grahame Woolf

See in The Scotsman " - - the bare-faced exposure of the Livre - - demanding complete understanding of the composer's sound world - - it is the sheer musicality of Bonaventure's interpretations - - make complete poetic sense of even Messiaen's most abstract gestures. Moments that openly bow to serial dogma are given soulful shape"