GMCD 7228/29 – Olivier Missiaen The blessed Sacrament with Anne Page, Organ
Nancy Ruffer – Flute, Helen Crayford – Piano
Suffolk & Norfolk Life October 2005
So, what next? Well, it is many years since organist Anne Page won the Trianon Organ Competition. Since then the Australian has made her home in East Anglia where she directs the Cambridge Summer Recitals. In another Guild recording she performs an the Organ of Norwich Cathedral over two CDs the setting by French composer, Olivier Messiaen of The Book of the Blessed Sacrament (Guild GMCD 7228/9). Written in 1984, towards the end of his life, the 18 pieces, some short, others of longer duration, describe some of the events in the life of Christ including the Nativity, and the translation of the water into wine. Messiaen was, for many years, Organist at the Church of The Trinity in Paris, and it is that Church at the end of this month that I will be conducting a choir of English and Dutch singers. So the wheel comes round full circle.
INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW – AUGUST 02
There are now eight recordings of Messiaen’s last organ work, but since several of them are only available as part of complete Messiaen cycles (all of which run to seven CDs)” the obvious comparison that this new version has to stand up to is the recently reissued performance by Jennifer Bate that I reviewed in April (at budget price on Regis); it was recorded under Messiaen’s supervision on his own instrument at the church of Sainte-Trinité in Paris. The two sound different, of course: the Trinité organ is a characteristic Cavaillé-Coll, the much larger instrument at Norwich Cathedral is by Hill, Norman and Beard and, in its huge acoustic, sounds far more English. At times it seems rather softly dense – there’s not much sense of articulation or movement in the opening ‘Adoro te’ – but more often the size and impact of the instrument are hugely effective. try the, splendidly bold fanfares of No. 7 (‘The resurrected and the Light of Life’). The ‘three types of darkness’ of which Messiaen speaks in No. 9 (‘The shadows’) are tangibly different.
Anne Page’s tempos are much faster than Jennifer Bate’s: she reduces the duration of the cycle by half-an-hour and the differences are often at their most noticeable in the longer and slower movements. Part of the reason for tlüs, 1 am sure, is a real feeling for urgency of expression. In the 11th movement (‘The resurrected Christ appears to Mary Magdalen’) Page’s booklet note speaks of the ‘restless and confused’ opening that shows ‘both the pre-dawn darkness and Mary’s inner state’; indeed tense anxiety is the mood she evokes, in just under 12 minutes where Bate takes nearly 16. In those numbers which use plainchant, she usually enunciates it at a faster tempo than Bate. Page’s seem to me to be more natural tempos for chanting, but there is the risk (as in No. 3, ‘The hidden God’) that the contrasting birdsongs will seem slow. In No. 6 (‘Manna and the Bread of Life’) I am pretty sure that her restless opening tempo is too fast. Here Bate is very much slower (over 13 minutes; Page takes less than nine) but movement is perceptible; so is a far greater sense of space.
Page’s expressive urgency is frequently striking and her enjoyment of the Norwich instrument’s lavish resources is infectious; the admirable recording is impressively spacious. But Bate’s version has more than the authority of the composer’s imprimatur: it was recorded when the work was brand new and has a real sense of mystery, awe and discovery which Page does not always recapture.
BBC Music Magazine – August 02
Livre du St Sacrement is Messiaen’s last and longest work for organ. As such it stands as the composer’s summa for his own instrument, meditating on the Eucharist, the same subject that inspired his earliest extant organ piece, Le banquet céleste. The 18 movements of this vast cycle are divided into three broad sections, with four contemplations of Christ followed by two groups of seven movements respectively exploring pertinent episodes of Christ’s earthly life and the mysteries of the Eucharist.
The magnitude of the task makes any performance of Livre du St Sacrement a major achievement, and there is much to praise about Anne Page’s account, such as her imaginative registrations and her joie de vivre at key moments. However, like Gillian Weir (Collins), Olivier Latry (DG) and, surprisingly, Almut Rössler (Motette) before her, Page frequently lacks the necessary sense of space for this epic cycle to have its full transcendent impact. ‘La manne et le Pain de Vie’, for instance, fails to capture the stillness essential to this desert portrait.
Ultimately for Page to knock half an hour off Bate’s timing and to clock-in 20 minutes faster than Hans-Ola Ericssons’s fine account (BIS) indicates too great a preoccupation with where the music is going without concentrating on where it is. Ericsson’s performance is definitely worth investigating, and has recordings of birdsongs quoted in the cycle as an imaginative filler, but Bate (Regis) remains the prime recommendation, especially now that her set is available at bargain price.
The Organ 05.07.02
Norwich may seem a long way from Paris but the sound world which Anne Page creates for us is remarkably impressive. The recording appears to place the listener at some distance from the organ creating both cohesion and mystery. The first few bars of Le manne et le Pain de Vie are almost inaudible in contrast with the stridency of Les ressuscités. The dark rumblings which open L’apparition du Christ give way to more ethereal sounds leading eventually to a joyous climax. Yet even in the ferocity of Les deux murailles d’eau the musical texture is clear and sustained. After so much intensity the refinement of La joie de la grâce comes as a sublime moment of reflection before the final outpouring of Alleluia.
Changes of colour and tone flow effortlessly, a tribute both to the performer’s technique and the technical ability of the instrument to respond to her demands. One is never aware of a forced effect, only of the intensity and beauty of the score. This is a very fine recording and a fitting anniversary tribute.