Unique document of a great modern musician
Rodney Molnar-Pohdap | USA | 09/21/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) is generally regarded as one of the most important musicians of the 20th century. Most famous as composer and pedagogue, he was also a virtuoso performer and improvisor. It was in fact his natural gift for improvisation which led his conservatory teachers to recommend that he study the organ, which in turn led him to compose some of the most important masterpieces ever written for that instrument.
Organist at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Paris for over 60 years, Messiaen constantly improvised music for services, mostly based on Gregorian chant melodies. These improvisations often generated ideas leading to composed music, thus making the organ loft a real musical workshop.
This DVD gives a rare glimpse into that workshop. It includes three improvisations on the Christmas chant "Puer natus est nobis" (Unto us a boy is born), filmed in October 1985. Each is a little program work, the first depicting the joy of the angels announcing the birth of Christ, the second the magi following the star, the last the magi presenting their gifts to Mary and Jesus.
We hear musical elements similar to the work he was composing at the time, the Livre du Saint Sacrement for organ (which includes a Puer natus setting). Yet we also hear milder, more conventional sounds, showing more clearly his stylistic links with other French organists, and how clearly he grew out of that tradition.
The video provides extensive shots of Messiaen at the organ console, playing soberly yet deftly with sure, calm and efficient technique. There are also shots of the organ case and loft, though oddly none of the rest of the church. The sound quality is generally good -- only a few distortions with deep bass tones.
The improvisations last c. 25 minutes. Then follows a full-length performance of the Quartet for the End of Time, filmed in live concert at a monastery. The performance is adequate, though somewhat flawed -- the only reason I give this DVD 4 instead of 5 stars."