Paraclete Press, the publishers of the Gloria dei Artes series of CDs, is marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of French composer Olivier Messiaen with this sampling of his musical legacy for the pipe organ. Messiaen revolutionized 20th century music with his own unique musical language which has been taken up by only a few composers, but has been valuable in showing there are alternatives to the serialized approach of Schoenberg and Webern. His style is a complex blend of Catholic mysticism, faith, polytonality, birdsong, instrumental color, and a strongly ecstatic overall feeling. As Messiaen himself stated, he tried to produce “a music that touches all things without ceasing to touch God.” However, his music can be experienced just as pure sound by those of different spiritual persuasions – just as you needn’t be a Jew converted to Catholicism to appreciate Mahler’s symphonies.
The 11 selections range from almost inaudible high-pitched musical sounds to thundering climaxes that employ all the resources of this immense Skinner pipe organ. There will also be in many of the passages plenty of frequencies aimed at your subwoofer(s). The organ is in the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, MA, and has gradually grown out of 15 different Skinner instruments over the years. It has been restored to museum quality as a single instrument, but it is still not completely finished! When it is, it will consist of 11 divisions and 12,000 pipes. Even now, it is perfect for communicating the amazingly varied tonal colors Messiaen calls for in his organ works.
The actual speaking pipes of the organ are suspended for about a hundred feet on both sides of the church along its entire length. The notes about the revolutionary organ – so appropriate for Messiaen’s revolutionary music – describe it as creating a unique “surround sound” effect. So I must ask, why isn’t this a multichannel SACD recording? It would have been probably the most exciting pipe organ recording since E. Power Biggs’ quad LP & multichannel SACD of the four pipe organs in Bach. The Gloria Dei Artes CD is a very clean and wide range recording, but disappointingly only two channel.
– John Sunier