- Livre du Saint-Sacrement, for organ, I/53
Lasting close to two hours, with 18 movements, Messiaen's "Livre du Saint Sacrement" is the composer's longest and most monumental work for organ. It is also his last organ work, so it represents his final thoughts on the instrument that was central to his career as a composer and a performer. Many of its movements are based on his improvisations at Église de la Sainte-Trinité in Paris, which his wife recorded, and which he then worked into finished compositions. It incorporates the breadth of the Messiaen's inspirations and techniques: chant, birdsong, his devout Catholicism, his exotic modalities with their synesthetic associations with color, his dramatically abrupt juxtaposition of disparate elements, and his unique rhythmic systems. The 18 movements are divided into three sections; the first four are meditations in preparation for Communion, the next seven based on events in Jesus' life, and the last seven based on the mysteries of the sacrament. The formal scheme may not be immediately apparent to the listener, but what come across are depictions of raw grandeur interspersed with moments of deep intimacy. Organist Michael Bonaventure plays with the requisite breadth and sweep to pull the massive work together. It is notoriously difficult to capture the experience of an organ as large and complex as the one recorded here, from St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh. Sounds that are so physically enveloping are inevitably diminished when compressed into a recording, so much is lost. This music, even more than most, needs to be experienced in live performance to be fully absorbed, but within their limitations the engineers do an admirable job of conveying its sonic depth and brilliance, and the effect can be overwhelming.