Organist honors Olivier Messiaen centennial in style
After hearing the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's concert Sunday afternoon at the Meyerhoff I raced off to the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen to catch part of Jonathan Moyer's admirable cycle of Messiaen's complete organ works. For this final installment, Moyer added a prelude concert featuring the Chandos Singers of the Handel Choir of Baltimore, led by director Melinda O'Neal. I slipped into a pew in time to hear the choristers deliver a very sensitive performance of Messiaen's O sacrum convivium, a work of lyrical beauty that follows a natural flow of subtly developing harmonic progressions ever heavenward.
Moyer then performed the complete Livre du Saint Sacrement, Messiaen's last will and testament for organ, an 18-part reflection on core beliefs of Catholicism. Each movement is inspired by lines from scripture or the saints, and those lines were elegantly recited by revered soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson before each piece was played.
I wish I could have held on to the very end, but I ducked out at intermission. Still, what I heard was deeply enriching, from the shattering cosmos in sound unleashed by Moyer in the Adoro te to the brilliant tone poem of La manne et le Pain de Vie, with its multi-directional force of sounds creating intensely vivid images, spiced, of course, Messiaen's trademark bird call motifs. The relative simplicity of Institution de l'Eucharistie, a tapestry of major chords and bird song, was as impressively realized by the organist as was the tragic weight of Les tenebres, with its chilling evocation of darkness spreading over the earth (the cathedral's formidable Schantz organ provided tremendous sonic depth here).
Livre du Saint Sacrement illustrates just how Messiaen's rock-solid faith allowed him to explore distant regions of tonality, diffuse concepts of form, without ever losing his way. Moyer's own obvious belief in the composer's vision yielded consistently riveting, incisive music-making.
BALTIMORE SUN FILE PHOTO