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Review: DAME GILLIAN WEIR Metropolitan Cathedral; in association with TJ HUGHES.

Byline: by Joe Riley

OLIVIER MESSIAEN devised a unique musical language.

Although this extended to many forms - latterly an opera about St Francis of Assisi - Messiaen was at heart, for more than 50 years, a Parisian organist.

His greatest interpreter, the global player Dame Gillian Weir (pictured), visited Liverpool to play to both the curious and the converted.

Her audience included at least half-a-dozen top UK cathedral organists - a case of the professionals paying homage to the fount of all knowledge in a programme marking the centenary of Messiaen's birth (and, incidentally, played on the 41st anniversary of the consecration of the cathedral).

The revelation of hearing an acclaimed specialist, is in the realisation of all the bits and bobs missing from even a 'normal' and accurate reading.

It goes without saying that Gillian Weir has the astounding technique and articulation to transfer Messiaen, via an ideally voiced instrument, into an equally important resounding space, spectacularly dappled by summer sunlight to match the composer's link between music and colour.

But the bonus is the profound in-filling of detail in phrasing, registration and tempo which come from Weir's life-long study of Messiaen, dating back to 1964 when, as a student, she won the prestigious St Alban's International Organ Competition.

The work which assured her of that prize - depicting the battle between death and life (in that order!) was repeated here: a tumultuous clash between hellish dissonance and floating mysticism - a musical theology in itself.

Even one of Messiaen's famous pieces, the toccata Dieu Parmi Nous (God Among Us) with its startling downward-leaping motif finally consumed in the welter of full organ power, was newly revealed as having a far more complex middle section, full of often ignored or simply undiscovered subtleties.

And another Messiaenic landmark, the jazzy uproarious Joie et Clarte, using this instrument's most instinctive voice - the brassy horizontal trumpets - was, if nothing else, a hint of nightclubs in the after-life.

But even a genius like Messiaen has excesses.

Times when the tricks of a technically-scrupulous approach threaten to kill off the musicality and beg the question: Where and when will it all end?

A case of indulgence in excelcis deo.

We know what Messiaen thought of the organ's greatest composer, Bach (he often played it).

But the most poignant question here would be what Bach might have made of Messiaen.

Mmmmmm.

Rating: 8/10 Another fine Mess-iaen
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 16, 2008
Words:398
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