My cultural weekend continues: Jonathan Moyer plays Messiaen’s “Livre du Saint Sacrement”

My weekend musical bonanza continued this afternoon with an outstanding performance of Olivier Messiaen’s “Livre du Saint Sacrement” performed at the Church of the Covenant in Cleveland by Jonathan William Moyer, the church’s new organist and music director.  The performance was give in honor of the hundredth anniversary of Messiaen’s birth.  Moyer is a doctoral candidate at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and will be performing the work there next week, so this was the out-of-town try-out on the Covenant’s large Aeolian-Skinner organ.  The organ sounded better than usual today; I noticed a large pile of red upholstered pew cushions in the corner–if they were banished permanently, that’s a good thing for the usually dry acoustics in the church.  Messiaen’s organ music sounds best in a reverberant room.

“Livre du Saint Sacrement” is a daunting work in eighteen movements lasting a bit over two hours.  The composer indicates an optional intermission following the eleventh movement, which Moyer observed.  His performance was clear, cleanly played (if perhaps a bit conservative in tempos at times.)  The organ worked surprising well with Messiaen’s registrational instructions.  The notated birdsongs sang out not just from the chancel organ in the front, but sometimes from the antiphonal organ in the back of the church.

There was an unfortunately small audience—I’m guessing mostly Church of the Covenant members.  Several whom I spoke to indicated that the organist had “coached” them in what to expect, with a lecture and film about Messiaen, and very complete program notes.  (I had the benefit of my own copy of the score to follow, but the notes were also very helpful.)

The Church of the Covenant has made a good choice in their new organist, who must have had a bit of trepidation in following the very popular and brilliantly talented Todd Wilson who was in the position for most of the past twenty years.  But Jonathan Moyer acquitted himself admirably today.

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