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OLIVIER MESSIAEN - L'Ascension & Other Organ Works - Tom Winpenny (Organ) - 747313347179 - Released: March 2016 - Naxos 8.573471

1} L'Ascension
- Majesté du Christ
- Alléluias sereins
- Transports de joie
- Prière du Christ
2} Diptyque
3} Offrande au Saint-Sacrement
4} Prélude
5} Le Banquet céleste
6} Apparition de l'Eglise éternelle

For those of you seeking to find a point of entry into the unique sound world of Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), this new Naxos recording featuring organist Tom Winpenny at the Rieger Organ of St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh, may well be the portal to lead you in. For one thing, L'Ascension, the main work on this CD, is one of the early works in which Messiaen established "his" harmonic and rhythmic principles, from which he never really wavered for the rest of his life. His harmonic progressions are always very static, as if drifting through space towards a distant key, which when once attained, validates the journey. Also worth noting is that his compositions for the pipe organ are very orchestral in nature. Being a lifelong organist himself, he took the opportunity to write music symphonic in outlook that could be played by one individual. In other words he didn't write music for the pipe organ, but rather music to be performed on the pipe organ. Two completely different perspectives. As a matter of fact, L'Ascension is a suite of four symphonic meditations, originally scored for orchestra which begged to be transcribed for organ, the instrument that best projects its concept. Despite being religious in essence, his music has nothing at all in common with church music. Its scope alone clearly supports that point.

Organist Tom Winpenny, Assistant Master of the Music at St. Albans Cathedral, has certainly chosen a fitting instrument for this music, and knows precisely how to manipulate and combine its many stops to produce the desired effect. For example, at the midpoint of Alléluias sereins, by a subtle change of registration, it sounds like a shift in orchestral color and expression. He also clearly brings out this magnificent organ's power and brilliance in the impressive Transports de joie. And his choice of stop combinations in Offrande au Saint-Sacrement lends that piece an ethereal sound I had never experienced before. In other words he's managed to create a sound recipe perfectly suited to the character of each and every one of these mysterious works. And that in itself is not an easy task when you consider the multitude of stops to choose from on some of the larger instruments. He also understands that Messiaen's music needs to progress slowly, to be held back, as if suspended in time and space, in order to come across as intended. I've played some of these myself in the past, but could never quite get their "essence" to divulge itself fully the way Winpenny captures it. Well done!

Jean-Yves Duperron - April 2016